So, a little while ago, I wrote about why the Denver Broncos should put their quarterback, the inimitable Peyton Manning, on the bench. Well, here we are, about a month later, and Peyton Manning didn’t start against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The party line from the Broncos is that Peyton Manning was benched because of injury, because of a series of small injuries that are keeping him from playing at his best. Based on his performance this year, and more specifically in the last game he started (playing the Kansas City Chiefs), I have no difficulty believing that.
His stats against the Chiefs seem almost unprecedented, not just for an elite – should that be qualified by calling him “previously elite” yet, or is that too much of a knee jerk reaction? – player like Manning, but for anyone that’s ever taken a snap under center. He was 5 of 20, for 35 yards and 4 interceptions. He had a passer rating of zero. It’s been over a week and I’m still trying to get my head around those stats.
Given he was benched after that fourth interception, it might seem a little difficult to buy that “injury” is the sole reason that he got pulled from the game; his stats were ugly for as long as he was on the field against Kansas, if any other quarterback had played a game like that, they’d have been benched must quicker. But Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, and so, understandably, he gets more time on the field to try and prove that he can still play like Peyton Manning.
After the game, injury remained the reason for Manning’s performance. “I thought I felt good enough to play,” is what Manning said. Gary Kubiak said he didn’t pull Manning from the game because of how he played, but instead said “I was protecting him because I was worried about him.”
I think at this point it’s safe to say, at this point we’re all worried about Peyton Manning. Both physically and otherwise.
The Denver years of Manning’s career always felt like a legacy grab to me, even based on the how the team was built, not for long term sustainability to like Seattle or, to an extent, Pittsburgh, but a team very much built for now and trying to win a championship within the last few years, pretty much since Manning has been there. Now it looks like Manning’s biggest problem is that he’ll be the quarterback that tried to force a legacy. So, the question is, should Peyton Manning call it quits?
Right now, when I think of veterans leaving the NFL, my mind always goes to Steve Smith Senior. At the beginning of the year, he announced that this would be his final season in the league. A few weeks ago, he was injured. His season ended it with that, and so did his career. Since then, all I’ve thought is that that’s no way for a player like him to leave the league. I’ll suspend my cynicism and say that injury is the only reason Manning got pulled against Kansas and didn’t start against Chicago. If that’s the case, surely now would be as good a time as any to leave, but to do so of his own accord, to fashion his own exit, instead of being forced out by injury like Steve Smith.
Of course, this is a bit of a double-edged sword; if Manning leaves now, he’ll be leaving on the back of the worst game of his career. But he’ll be able to take control of that, to say that he’s leaving because a) he’s injured, and b) he isn’t quite the player he used to be. I’ve already said once that he’s given extra time on the field when he plays badly to try and prove that he’s still Peyton Manning.
Surely the man himself knows that he isn’t the man he was. I don’t know what to make of the Broncos this year; their on one side of the ball they’ve been operating in a league of their own, but on the other, their once biggest threat has become a liability. Their schedule is tough, and almost all of their wins have been by one touchdown or less, essentially the touchdown their defence affords them.
Whether he leaves, now at the end of the regular season, or – if they get there – the playoffs, there’s only one thing I’m sure of, and that’s that Manning has a tough path to the exit.