Peyton Manning always had a definitive swagger to him that made Peyton, well, Peyton. He would saunter to the line and survey the defense with unwavering intensity and authority. He was the unquestioned maestro of the Colts symphony orchestra, barking orders to his comrades like the battle-hardened field general that he was, always in control of not only himself but the entire team. In the pocket, he was surgical in his precision in every sense, starting with his textbook footwork all the way up to his constantly shifting eyes, delivering psychological haymakers to the defenses game plan with a simple look away to the other side of the field. They called him the Sheriff, because of his unparalleled control of the every nuance of his team.
He was the best offensive football player I have ever seen, and most football observers probably share similar sentiments.
That is what makes this year so potentially disappointing. Imagine seeing Roger Clemons trying to strike out kids 30 years his junior in A-ball, or classic movies getting reboots and sequels, or Jerry Rice being cut in training camp. Oh, did all of those things happen. Ok, well, pretty crappy right?
This was my fear for Peyton going into Sunday night’s matchup with the always fearsome Pittsburgh Steelers, and for the beginning of the night it looked like that was the path this year may be going down. The Sheriff’s badge had been taken away. Peyton had been neutered.The play calling was conservative to a ridiculous degree. He did not complete a pass beyond 15 yards. He took quick drops out of shotgun and threw mostly 5 yard slants and quick wide receiver screens. This is Peyton F-ing Manning, let him air it out! Perhaps the Broncos caution was justified, because worst of all, he did not have that steely resolve in the pocket. Twice in the first quarter he had Pittsburgh pressure bearing down on him quicker than a fat kid bee-lining for the ice cream truck. In the past Peyton would stand strong, keep his eyes downfield and deliver a strike. He knew that the hit was coming but a sack most certainly would not. Not on the Sheriff’s watch. 2012 Peyton braced for the hit, bundled up in the fetal position and took the sack.
His throws lacked zip. Several even (gasp) lacked a spiral. His throws looked like my throws, which is to say lacking power, a spiral and accuracy. His one deep throw he attempted to Decker fluttered like a butterfly with a head injury before landing behind Decker. The 4-time MVP that the Broncos had anointed as Franchise savior was playing like he had a better chance of winning Bingo at a retirement home than a Super Bowl in the NFL
Then Demaryius Thomas broke that screen for a score, and everything changed. Some, including the announcing team, had seen the change on the scoring drive in the second quarter, but to be honest that drive was dink and dunk and dying ducks, with lots of short passes where Peyton was winning with his mind, not his arm. Plus, he did not have that Peyton swag. He was not waving the coach away on fourth down, or flipping out like a fifth grader on a Mountain Dew IV drip when identifying the blitz. It all felt very stale. Then Demaryius broke a few tackles, and Peyton brushed some ashes off his electric orange jersey to do his best Phoenix impression. He was back.
The first drive of the 4th quarter was vintage Manning. He was playing the defense like a fiddle and could not even begin to contain his enthusiasm. Frantic hand gestures, impassioned yelling, and footballs zipping through coverage like they had a NOS tank attached to it. This was the Peyton of old, this was the Peyton everyone hoped they would see. He marched down the field, and effectively stabbed Pittsburgh right in its collective jugular.
The rest of the game went as so many Peyton wins has gone before. He got the ball again, led them on another workmanlike drive, and ended up winning the game. Peyton said Peyton Manning things in the postgame interview. It was just another win in a career full of them, yet it meant so much more. Bronco’s fans, get excited. Your quarterback is Peyton Manning. The Sheriff is back in town.
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Written by Brandon Keller