Peyton Manning has led the Broncos through one of the most prosperous periods in team history. He is only the third player in franchise history to win the NFL MVP award, he’s second in virtually every franchise passing record, and first in the single-season marks.
He’s one of only three quarterbacks to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl, and on Sunday afternoon, as the Broncos stood on the wrong end of a 22-0 drubbing, he was benched.
Coming into the game, Manning was dealing with foot and rib injuries. However, he was also only four yards shy of becoming the NFL’s all-time passing yardage leader.
Instead of hitting that mark on an easy bubble screen, or a crossing route to Demaryius Thomas, like Broncos fans have seen so many times during the Manning era, Manning’s first pass was intercepted by Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters. It was a precursor of what was to come.
After setting the all-time passing record on a four-yard throw to Ronnie Hillman, the five-time NFL MVP looked lost through much of the game.
He failed to complete easy throws, saw ghosts in the pocket, and mid-way through the third quarter, after going 5-of-20 for 35 yards and a remarkable four interceptions, Manning was benched in favor of fourth-year backup Brock Osweiler.
After the game, Manning was regretful of his decision to suit up Sunday.
"I thought I felt good enough to play," Manning said. "Looking back, I probably ended up hurting the team.
"I made some really bad plays and put our team in a really bad position," Manning continued. "I put us in bad positions all day."
Osweiler’s appearance seemed to spark the Broncos offense, as he led the previously anemic Denver to two touchdown-scoring drives, going 14-of-24 for 146, with one touchdown and one interception. Osweiler’s passing yardage was more than quadruple Manning’s offensive output.
For his part, Osweiler stood behind his starting quarterback.
"Peyton is the best to ever do it," Osweiler said post-game. "We are 100 percent behind him."
While Manning’s performance certainly contributed to the blowout, it was far from the only thing plaguing the Broncos. For the third straight game, the once vaunted Broncos defense failed to force a turnover, and the Broncos offensive line played as poorly as they had all season, allowing five sacks and only creating enough room for 69 yards on 16 carries in the running game.
However, the real questions about this game have yet to be answered. Peyton Manning is one win away from becoming the NFL’s all-time wins leader, but whether or not he will get the chance to do that next week in Chicago is still up in the air.
Head coach Gary Kubiak threw himself on a sword for his quarterback.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” Kubiak said. “I probably should have made the decision not to play him in the game. This one is on me.”
When asked about the future of the quarterback position, Kubiak was blunt. “If he’s healthy and ready to go, Peyton is our quarterback.”