When Peyton Manning chose to play for the Broncos in March, it's hard to know if he realized exactly what he was getting himself into.
This ain't no basketball town.
People in this region have a blue and orange addiction, and the quarterback of the Broncos may as well be Walter White – feeding that craving with every touchdown pass.
Oft cited as the most important man in the state of Colorado – all due respect, Mr. Governor – the quarterback of the Broncos faces scrutiny, pressure and adoration like no other sports figure in these parts. From the die-hard fan to the casual observer, every one knows who leads the Broncos on Sundays.
John Elway cast a shadow longer than Longs Peak over fans here and left an indelible mark on the game, but this is a different era. Since Elway retired, the NFL has belonged to the former Colt and four-time MVP, Peyton Manning. Manning redefined the quarterback position and rewrote the record book in fifteen illustrious seasons in Indianapolis.
It's been a bit odd seeing him in a Broncos uniform. He's the guy we knew all too well in Denver, but certainly never loved.
The perennial picture of excellence, Manning amassed a .673 winning percentage with the Colts, including a Super Bowl championship. He made the Broncos look like an overmatched college team in two playoff blowouts. His career numbers are staggering, and he'd receive a Hall pass in his first year of eligibility regardless if he'd continued playing, or retired after his last full season in 2010.
The Colts could have retained Manning and drafted Andrew Luck with the first pick in April's draft. After all, who better to tutor Luck than Manning? But Colts owner Jim Irsay thought Manning's tank to be empty and opted to release him and his surgically repaired neck and bloated contract to the free agent market.
In the famous words of Jerry Seinfeld, sports fans are merely rooting for laundry in the free-agent landscape that sees players change teams every year. However, a player like Manning comes along once a generation (unless you're a Packers fan) and Indianapolis releasing him is a move that Colts fans have to be lamenting. The masterful Manning looked every bit his vintage self in leading the Broncos back from the depths versus the Chargers Monday night.
The Broncos are contenders and they owe it all to number 18.
Manning put up great numbers in the first five games of the season, and save for a forgettable first quarter at Atlanta, has been relatively mistake free. Regardless, critics began chirping as the Broncos fell to a 2-3 record. They said his passes looked wobbly, his arm weak. Columnist Jason Whitlock went as far as to call him “fool's gold” after the opening win against the Steelers, noting that Manning “can't stretch the field anymore.”
I wonder if Whitlock watched Monday's game?
The Broncos fumbled and bumbled themselves into an all too familiar position of this young season – looking up. In previous contests against the Falcons, Texans and Patriots, the Broncos faced double-digit deficits at halftime and had to rely on the right arm and moxie of Manning to lead them back, to no avail. Manning's Herculean efforts proved to be too little, too late in each of the three losses.
Despite the 24-0 halftime deficit, this game was different. Aided by second half mistakes of the stupor Chargers and Philip Rivers, the Denver defense finally showed signs of life, scoring the Broncos first points off a Tony Carter fumble recovery. It was the jumpstart Manning needed, as he passed for 167 yards and three touchdowns with only one incompletion in the second half. Manning finished the night 24-30 with 309 yards and three touchdowns to only one interception. It was the kind of performance that Broncos fans aren't accustomed to. Manning's early season projections would put him in the Broncos record book in every major single season passing statistic. (4,821 yards, 37 TDs, 410 completions)
It was a game that many will remember long after this season is over and long after Manning's bust is enshrined in Canton. It was the first time in NFL history that a team facing a three touchdown deficit at halftime came back to win by double digits. It was the biggest comeback win of Manning's career that has featured 47 such efforts. It was the fourth largest comeback in NFL history. It was a legendary performance from a legendary player.
That Bronco uniform finally looked right on him, and Monday night Peyton Manning became a Bronco where it matters most – in the hearts of Broncos fans everywhere.