Since his return from career-threatening neck surgeries in 2011, Peyton Manning has maintained a stoic disposition when discussing his status. No injury was too serious, and nothing would prevent him from regaining his form among the NFL's best quarterbacks.
Now that he has the stats to prove himself right, Manning is ready to admit he's far from 100 percent healthy.
In an interview with MMQB's Peter King, the Broncos quarterback admitted he does not have any feeling in his fingertips:
I can't feel anything in my fingertips. It's crazy. I've talked to a doctor recently who said, Don't count on the feeling coming back. It was hard for me for about two years, because one doctor told me I could wake up any morning and it might come back. So you wake up every day thinking, Today's the day! Then it's not.
At once, Manning's admission helps explain his occasional struggles while making it all the more amazing he remains one of the game's best. It's likely hard to throw a perfect spiral 100 percent of the time without feeling in your fingertips—Manning has often been criticized for his wobbly "duck" throws—but let's do a quick recap of his three seasons in Denver.
Despite not having feeling in the tips of his fingers, Manning has thrown 131 touchdowns against 36 interceptions in Denver. In 2013, he set the NFL record for touchdown passes (55) and yards (5,477) in a single season while winning the league's MVP award.
King added further context that makes Manning's run in Denver more impressive: "At 36, 37 and 38, his combined completion percentage is 2.8 percentage points higher than in his career before the neck problems; in Indy, he averaged 28.5 touchdown passes per season; in Denver, it's 43.7."
"Listen: this is just ridiculous," said Jared Dubin of CBSSports.com following the interview. "An NFL quarterback plays every single week without feeling in the fingertips of his throwing hand. Not only that, but Manning's numbers are actually better across the board with Denver than they were in Indianapolis."
Keep in mind that this is the same player some thought was done toward the end of the 2014 season. After getting off to a typically brilliant start, Manning threw only four touchdown passes against six interceptions in his final five games (playoffs included). That encompassed an ugly four-interception game against the Cincinnati Bengals and a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which he averaged fewer than five yards per attempt.
Later, it was revealed Manning played through a quad injury.
"I just think I got dehydrated, and that caused it," Manning told King. "I don't think you can blame it on my age. It was just an isolated thing. I've made it through every other season, and this offseason I went through a state of the union physically, if you will, and I started training earlier and made some dietary changes."
Manning finished 2014 overall with 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. Football Outsiders' DYAR metric, which grades players against the expected performance of a replacement-level player, had Manning as the third-best quarterback in football. He's going to be great again in 2015; any concerns about his late-season performance ignores historical context.
Though Manning threw 12 of his 15 interceptions last season in the final two months, he did not have those troubles in previous years. In fact, Manning's first two years in Denver saw him throw more touchdowns in December than any other month.
Whether you believe age or dehydration caused Manning's injury is immaterial. Given how well he's played the last three years, he's earned the benefit of the doubt heading into 2015.
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