John Fox has been the focus of much criticism in Denver for the last couple of days. His decision to have Peyton Manning take a knee with time left on the clock in regulation and timeouts to burn has been met with universal scorn. Broncos Country is pissed and demanding an explanation.
When Fox held his post-season press conference yesterday, along with John Elway, he flatly stated that he would make the same decision "ten times out of ten". Would he really, or was Fox's decision made knowing that his quarterback couldn't drive the ball down the field?
Was Peyton Manning suffering from the effects of the same nerve-regeneration issues that caused him to throw wobbly passes early in the season? Could he not feel his fingers? Was his right hand essentially a fleshy stone attached to his wrist thanks to the bitter Denver cold? Could this explain his fumbles, the frequency with which the Broncos ran the ball in overtime and Manning's costly interception that put the Ravens in position to win the game?
Did Peyton Manning's health ultimately cost the Broncos the chance to advance to the AFC Championship game ... and maybe the Super Bowl?
Everybody loves a great conspiracy theory. To that end this idea is tantalizing. But this is no great stretch of my imagination. It makes perfect sense. And, if there's anything to this hunch then we have all vilified John Fox for his most brilliant move yet as the head coach of the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning continues to heal. By the time next season rolls around he will be far better than he was entering this season. The Broncos will be better, too. There's a lot to this team's future. It could be the next Super Bowl champion - and maybe even win two. But its hopes lay with Manning. For Fox to reveal now that 18's physical ailments played a part in Saturday's playoff loss would have created an ice storm of doubt in the media and among the fans. Why allow that to happen? What's done is done.
Fox's biggest decision may not have been whether or not to go for broke with 31 seconds left on the clock. It might have been whether or not to bench Peyton Manning. We all know that would have been impossible. It is possible, however, that John Fox recognized that Manning was a greater liability than he was an asset with seconds ticking down. Fox might have known that his quarterback was not capable of delivering a pass downfield to set up a score and that the Broncos likely hood of turning the ball over in that situation was far greater than their setting up Prater in field goal range.
Overtime might have given the Broncos their best chance after all. By saying that his team needed to "regroup", maybe what Fox meant was that it needed to plan a work-around for a signal caller that was weakened and barely able to throw a football.
If that's the case then John Fox took a bullet for Peyton. In arrogantly stating that he would have made the same decision again, he deflected any criticism that might have flown in the direction of the MVP and absorbed it himself. We will spend the off-season doubting Fox and continue to revere Peyton Manning.
Think about that. Then, force yourself to watch the latter parts of that Ravens game again. Something wasn't right. I'm not calling Peyton Manning out or blaming him. Without him the Broncos never would have been in the position they were in. I am simply speculating that the conditions - the weather and his past injuries - may have added up to an imperfect storm and that everyone has the wrong fall guy - all by design.