Few things tug at your heartstrings more than the sight of Peyton Manning on the wrong side of the scoreboard in a playoff game. It’s hard to watch him eye the field from the sidelines in agony, while he patiently waits with his helmet still atop his head for some saving grace that is simply nonexistent. This was the case when Manning and the Broncos played the Colts in the 2015 AFC Divisional playoff game.
Football fans have grown accustomed to seeing the legendary quarterback lead the dominant Broncos just short of glory the past few years.
With three minutes left in the game, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson seemed to have gained the first down on a pivotal 4th-and-8 play. However, the play was reviewed, and the call was overturned. The Broncos later got the ball back, but it was too little, too late for Manning, dubbed “the Sheriff” for his majestic pre-snap routine filled with different gestures and audibles, to overcome the 11-point deficit. Manning dragged his feet across the turf looking like an old wise man with nothing left to offer.
His career was all but over, right? ESPN’s Adam Schefter later reported that Manning played the playoff game and the last month of the season with a torn right quad.
Manning was 39 years old at this point, and he himself didn’t know if he had the physical strength to overcome this injury. He was a shadow of his former self in that last month of the season — the swagger of the greatest quarterback ever was just not there. The football world thought Manning would never see the gridiron again.
To make matters worse, the Broncos lost their head coach, John Fox, to the Chicago Bears in the offseason. Fox definitely was not looking out for Manning when he also took Adam Gase, the former Broncos offensive coordinator, with him to Chicago. Although this news boded well for the beloved Bears fans, Manning lost the football equivalent of his best friend. Gase had been there from the start in Denver — a blessing after Manning was handled so poorly by the Colts, his former team.
Manning faced a lot of adversities throughout his career including age, health, coaching changes and most recently, personnel. Julius Thomas, the top red zone target for Manning, departed for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Broncos also lost Ryan Clady, their Pro Bowl offensive lineman who protects Manning’s blindside, to a torn ACL.
The skepticism of Manning blossomed after Week 1 of the 2015 regular season. He just didn’t look like classic Peyton against the Ravens; his throws were poorly timed and his pre-snap calls were often wrong.
Was the downfall of one of the NFL’s greats becoming reality, or was Manning still feeling the pressure of last season’s letdown?
His woes followed him into the next game against Kansas City, a game that was handed to the Broncos on a silver platter with five turnovers, including a costly fumble in the final seconds of the game by Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles. Manning started the game by throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He was still making bad judgments with the football. It wasn’t until the final minutes that Manning did what he has always done best — orchestrate a two-minute scoring drive.
Regardless of the setbacks, Peyton will always be Peyton, and his last hoorah has just begun. Manning knows how to play football better than anyone else; his abilities to both dissect the defense and sling the football in a matter of seconds are uncanny. Those who watched the two-minute scoring drive against Kansas City saw how hungry Manning was. He has fallen just short one too many times over the past few years, and now he won’t stop until he makes it back to the top.