Peyton Manning has been under fire lately. Following a week 14 game vs the Buffalo Bills that saw him go without throwing touchdown pass, for the first time as a member of the Denver Broncos, questions abounded in the media and fan base about his abilities as a 38-year old quarterback.
Has Father Time finally caught up with the Sheriff?
Throughout the last week, Manning has shot down those concerns in his sessions with the media. But they have persisted. And even though he finished today's game vs the San Diego Chargers with a 125.6 QB rating, the questions and doubts will likely persist.
Nevermind that he has 37 TDs on the season and has surpassed the 4,000-yard passing mark yet again. He's not throwing for 4 TDs and 300+ yards every game, so it must be his age, right? He's not the same QB he was in the first 10 weeks of the season. He's breaking down, just as the Broncos are preparing for the playoffs.
That narrative couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, today's performance in San Diego should reinforce to Broncos fans that all is right with Manning and that he's just as tough and single-minded as ever.
For example, he entered today's game at Qualcomm Stadium with flu-like symptoms. A little "under the weather". But with the AFC West Divisional crown on the line, no flu bug could keep Manning on the sidelines.
Instead, he opted for I.V. fluids and a stiff upper lip. Then, as the first half progressed, in a game that might have been as physical of a game as the Broncos have been in all year, Manning injured his thigh. He took himself off the field and into the locker room, following a third-down goal-line carry by C.J. Anderson that was initially called a TD.
On that play, it was designed to go over the right side of the offensive line. But the Chargers penetrated at the point of attack, and Anderson reversed course, swinging to the left side. Upon seeing this, in a split second, the 38-year old QB from the University of Tennessee, got out in front of Anderson, in an attempt to clear a lane to the endzone.
He engaged Chargers linebacker, Donald Butler, and bought Anderson just enough daylight to cross the goal-line. It was called a TD on the field, and Manning promptly jogged to the locker room, with under 2 minutes to go in the first half. The play ended up being reversed, and the Broncos settled for a Connor Barth field goal.
Despite the fact that Manning's block on Butler wasn't anything to write home about, it showed a grit and determination that I couldn't help but admire. Side note: whether it was because of Manning or not, Butler was injured on the play.
As the final minutes of halftime winded down, CBS reported that Brock Osweiler would start the third quarter, as Manning's illness had now been compounded by a thigh injury, which could have occured on that block.
But as we've seen from Manning throughout his career, he has to be absolutely incapacitated to leave the field. After an earnest conversation with coaches, where he plead his case, it was Manning who trotted out to the huddle on the Broncos first possession of the second half, not Osweiler.
Manning finished the day 14-of-20 for 233 yards and a TD. Once again, the Broncos leaned heavily upon Anderson and the run. It was a very physical game, replete with injuries to both sides. But Manning, hobbled and sick, managed to put 22 points on the board and iced the opponent, earning the team the division title and a guaranteed trip to the playoffs.
If that isn't true grit, I don't know what is. The mark of a fiery competitor with a seemingly super-human will to win.