Peyton Manning has defied Father Time longer than just about anyone who’s ever played professional football.
Manning threw a total of 94 touchdown passes in 2013 and 2014, his 16th and 17th seasons in the NFL. The previous standard at that experience threshold? Brett Favre and Y.A. Tittle with 46. Manning had 55 in 2013 alone.
Manning might be a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but Father Time eventually gets the best of every player, no matter how big of a star, no matter how many MVPs he’s won, no matter how many commercials he’s filmed.
Father Time has shown an incredible closing burst this season. Entering Sunday night’s showdown against the Green Bay Packers, Manning’s 18th season hasn’t gone nearly as well. He has seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the three games before the bye, Manning tossed two touchdown passes and was picked off seven times.
Manning had little interest in talking about himself — good or bad — during a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday.
“I was reading a little devotional today, talking about not talking about yourself, talking about others. I’m abiding by that devotional today,” Manning said.
“Hey, I’m working hard every day to get better,” he continued. “Our whole team is. We have some new players playing, we’ve had some injuries, we’ve got some different guys in there working every day to develop chemistry and timing and get on the same page and develop that continuity. That’s our goal everyday and I think it’s important to keep doing that and I’m in there right with them.”
Manning said the bye came at a good time for he and his teammates. Gary Kubiak, who is in his first season as Denver’s coach after an eight-year stint in Houston and was the longtime backup quarterback to John Elway during his playing days, said Manning is “doing fine,” regardless of what the numbers suggest. Learning a new offense, playing behind a so-so offensive line and getting little help from one of the worst rushing attacks in football have played a role in Manning’s struggles, Kubiak said.
“We’ve tried to monitor some of the reps during the course of the week,” Kubiak said during his call. “He hasn’t practiced on Wednesdays. He did today because we had a bye week last week so it’s time to catch up again. He’s doing fine. Obviously, we need to play better offensively and we can help him. We’ve had some battles up front that we’ve tried to settle down. Obviously, need to protect the ball better. That’s my job and our job as coaches and the whole group to improve from that standpoint. But he’s leading this football team. A tremendous leader and he’s all-in and he’s working his tail off. That’s all you can ask for.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed to the schematic adjustments.
“We're prepared for Peyton as the same player as he's always been,” he said. “I think what you're seeing is a change in philosophy and scheme. And they've had a bye week, so with that, there will be some things different, I'm sure, in the game Sunday than what we've prepared for. This is a very potent offense, particularly not just with the quarterback — with Peyton Manning and his ability to do a number of different things at a very high level — but their skill positions. This is a big challenge for our defense.”
Nonetheless, big-picture questions surrounding the Broncos revolve around the health of their legendary quarterback. Even if the line gets its act together and the running game returns, is Manning good enough to get the Broncos the Super Bowl? This is, after all, a quarterback who missed the entire 2011 season after neck surgery. He signed a five-year, $96 million contract to get the Broncos their first championship since John Elway led them to back-to-back crowns in 1997 and 1998. During his monster 2013 season, he was named MVP and got the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
If they get back there this year, it might be in spite of their signal-caller. Not because of him.
"Four neck surgeries and having to sit out a year, that definitely changed things,” Manning said. “You change your routine. There’s more physical rehab that you have to do and certain types of body maintenance that you have to do that you didn’t have to do before you were injured and maybe as a younger player. I think that’s part of adapting the longer you play, the kind of things you have to do to get ready to play. But certainly that injury and that surgery and that rehab, I’ve had to put in a lot of work to get back to playing quarterback from a physical standpoint.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.