As you read in this space on Friday, the duel between the Broncos and Packers was seen not only as a barometer of unbeaten teams, but also a referendum between two iconic quarterbacks, one at his apex and another at his nadir.
As was written here, the premature postmortems on Peyton Manning we’re piling up like a bonfire. Despite his endless personal success and his team’s spotless 6-0 record this season, we only heard doomsday cliches over old No. 18.
It’s been a blast. Father Time is also unbeaten. Nothing lasts forever. Retire before it gets ugly.
Peyton heard the entire catalog, every morbid mantra on eternal loop. So, of course, when he limped into the mile-high air, it would be the old man to suffocate on his age, salary and the weight of history.
Then the game happened. And while no one would pick Peyton Manning today over Aaron Rodgers, it turned out the geriatric QB still has a few deep balls left in his divine right arm.
We can parse the particulars, the yet-another 300-yard game from Manning, while the electric Rodgers was stuffed into a career-low 77 passing yards. The score should tell you what you need to know, if not the highlight reel.
Sure, the pass rush and rabid running game helped Manning and the Broncos (7-0) vanquish the Packers (6-1). But it had to put a wry smile on Manning when that bomb sailed down the left sideline and nestled nicely into Demaryius Thomas’s hands — a throw that players and pundits swore he could never make again.
It’s one game, played in Denver, between teams that can’t meet again unless it’s in Super Bowl 50. But if a game in early November can morph into a statement, Peyton Manning made one large assertion. If the Broncos can somehow bag home-field advantage in January, it’s not a reach to say you could see them inside Levi’s Stadium in February.
Quite interesting that Manning was pining for win No. 186, and past the province of another Packer. Brett Favre, to whom Rodgers was forever compared until he became a QB in full, retired as the father of every salient record in the book. But over the last few years, Manning has taken an eraser to the top spot, inserting his name atop the archives.
And it makes multiple statements. Not only does last night, and this year, speak to the talent still inside Manning, but it also speaks to all the other qualities that make an athlete an immortal. It speaks to Manning’s heart and hardihood and character.
After a series of neck injuries while he was still with the Colts, Manning could easily have tossed in the towel, and sat on his stats. He had his Super Bowl ring, his place in Canton quite assured. He could have slid into Mount Rushmore without another slant pattern.
But then he wouldn’t be Peyton Manning, who plays through the epic pain, and despite his epic pay. He has more money, yards and touchdowns than he can count. And yet he continues, and he endures. And he wins.
Despite — to paraphrase Mark Twain — premature reports of his professional death.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.