Peyton Manning Uses His Arm—and Legs—to Beat Patriots in AFC Championship

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Peyton Manning Uses His Arm—and Legs—to Beat Patriots in AFC Championship
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

This isn’t your father’s Peyton Manning. On Sunday against the New England Patriots, we saw a different quarterback than we’d seen for most of this season.

The 39-year-old quarterback had a tumultuous regular season in what could be his final year with the Denver Broncos—and in the NFL.

Manning only played in 10 games, threw 12 more interceptions than touchdowns, was benched for poor performance and injury, came back as a backup for the first time since he was a freshman at Tennessee and then came back in Week 17 off the bench to propel the Broncos into the postseason.

Manning hasn’t played like he used to, but since he came back from his injury, we’ve seen him look better than he had all season. With only one game left—and a tough Carolina Panthers defense waiting in the Super Bowl—we’ll see if Manning can look youthful and spry just one more time.

After the game, Manning commented on being the oldest quarterback to take his team to the Super Bowl.

“It’s a tremendous honor. It’s been a special four years playing here in Denver for these great fans, for this great organization. To be going to our second Super Bowl in four years is very special. Just an awesome effort by our entire team tonight.” Manning emphasized, “What an incredible effort by the Patriots; for us to beat that team today is a very special win.”

Can Manning continue to play like he’s found the Fountain of Youth? Going up against the Panthers will be a tall order, but it looks like Manning is more than ready for the challenge. He seems happy, healthy and rejuvenated leading the Broncos back to the big game.

Here are a few ways that Manning used his arm and his legs to beat the Patriots.

 

Bootleg

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

A big part of the Kubiak offense is using bootleg passes to set up a defense. To begin the regular season, we didn’t see many of these types of plays from Manning. In fact, when the Broncos realized they would have to use more shotgun formations with Manning, they went away from bootlegging.

A healthy Manning makes all the difference.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak was all smiles when talking about Manning’s late-season surge.

“I’m so proud of him,” he said. I sit here and reflect on some of the meetings he and I had throughout the course of these last 10 weeks and some of the conversations we had. To sit right there and talk about the opportunity we have here in two weeks—I’m just so proud of him.”

Kubiak revealed, “He worked hard to get back. I knew about three weeks ago or four weeks ago through a discussion we had that he was ready to come back and lead this football team, and he’s done a tremendous job.”

The Panthers defense features world-class talent at every level. If Manning can do it once more, we should see the bootleg a few times in the Super Bowl to keep the opponent on its heels.

 

Keeping Plays Alive

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

When the coverage was tight, Manning was able to keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. While the passing game looked smooth early on, things became rockier as the Patriots started to lock down receivers.

Manning didn’t get through this game unscathed.

The Patriots sacked him three times, and they compiled four quarterback hits against Manning on Sunday. With pressure swirling around him, Manning had to hold onto the ball a little longer than he normally does. With that extra time, Manning had to maneuver within the pocket to give his receivers a chance to get open.

The Broncos defense carried the day, and you could see that Manning didn’t want to let his defense down.

“It was an outstanding performance against a fine football team and a great offense,” he said. They knew they were challenged all week, and they answered the challenge.”

Manning continued, “I’ve really enjoyed playing on the same team as that defense that I’m glad I haven’t had to face this season, I’ll say that. They’ve been challenging going against in practice and going back to training camp. But it is special to watch them work and watch them perform out there on Sundays.”

The Broncos defense should lead the way once again versus the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. All signs point to Manning doing whatever he can to come through on his end in the biggest game of the year.

 

Scrambling

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

It seems like something out of a weird dream, but Manning was even able to scramble once against the Patriots in the third quarter. Watching Manning scramble 12 yards for a first down was like watching a unicorn jumping over a blue moon.

It wasn’t quite like the “helicopter” play, where John Elway was spun toward the end zone in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers, but it had a similar feel to it. Like Elway, when Manning took off to run, you saw a veteran quarterback doing what it takes to win a game.

A similar play unfolded last year in the divisional-round loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but Manning chose not to scramble and instead threw the ball away.

This time around, Manning knew what he had to do.

You almost had to rub your eyes to make sure you were seeing correctly when Manning took off to run. After the game, Kubiak talked about the third-quarter scramble.

“That goes through all that work he was doing over the course of the last 10 weeks. He’s going to do what he has to do to win. I know that. I mean, he’s one of the greatest competitors ever in this league.” Kubiak exclaimed, “For him to take off and make that play—guys, I can’t tell you how he has led this group the last three weeks. It’s been tremendous.”

We may not see Manning scramble like that against the Panthers. However, he put it on film against the Patriots, so the Panthers won’t be taken so much by surprise if Manning does turn on the jets if the opportunity arises in Super Bowl 50.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.

Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac. Transaction history provided by Pro Sports Transactions.

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