No, there is no “I” team but Peyton proved that one man can change the direction of a team in an instance.
By Gus Jarvis | 1/8/16
The game seemed almost too storybook scripted, didn’t it? A story too good to be true?
There was Peyton Manning, awkwardly pacing the sidelines as the Denver Broncos second string quarterback behind starter Brock Osweiler. It was a completely new role for the Hall of Fame quarterback. In fact, it was the first time a ready-to-play Peyton had sat on the sidelines since his freshman year at the University of Tennessee back in 1994.
Oh, it was awkward all right. It was awkward for Bronco fans as much as it was for Peyton.
The entire sports world had just spent six weeks endlessly talking about Peyton Manning’s torn plantar fascia and how we might not see the aged veteran behind center again.
Seriously, many of the N.F.L. Sunday pregame shows, full of expert opinions, said we would never see Peyton playing again. He’s too old, his body’s too beat up and he just doesn’t have the strength to do it any more. And when you think back at the last Manning start against the Chiefs, full of dead duck passes, four interceptions and only five completions, it wasn’t hard to think that maybe the talking heads were right. He really was terrible.
The day seemed like it was going to be a classic Denver Broncos letdown. First off, Tom Brady and his bunch of cheaters had just lost to Miami. That loss offered the Broncos a first week bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – provided, of course, that the Broncos could beat the 4-12 Chargers at home.
Simple enough right? It was an opportunity that seemed too good to be true. In classic Broncos fashion, Denver wasn’t able to just blow the lowly Chargers out 35-3 in a dominating win. No, Denver needed to struggle. Struggle and make it more than a nail-biter than it needed to be.
Despite the seeming ability to move the ball at will against the Chargers defense, the young Osweiler and his Broncos offense found themselves grasping to a 7-6 lead at halftime. To start the second half, the Broncos offense coughed up the ball again on a C.J. Anderson fumble.
Bronco fans were getting restless. The Chargers were gaining confidence and took the lead 13-6 following that fumble.
I must say, and I think few would argue, that Brock was playing a fairly clean game. With Osweiler, the Broncos were able to move the ball both running and passing. Drive-ending fumbles and tipped balls were the mistakes that were keeping the Broncos from absolutely crushing San Diego. Take a few fluky mistakes out of that first half and Denver would have had 28 points on San Diego. The reality, however, is Denver needed a spark somewhere. A spark to clean up their act and score the f-ing ball.
That’s where we have to give coach Gary Kubiak credit for calling in Manning.
“Just looking around for that guy that could give the team a lift, that tremendous leadership-type stuff,” Kubiak told The New York Times after the game.
The atmosphere shifted to the Broncos’ favor in Mile High Stadium simply when fans saw Manning warming up on the sidelines. It was over for the Chargers then and he hadn’t even taken a snap yet.
I must say in full disclosure, I was yelling mindlessly at the TV when Manning was warming up. I wasn’t happy. I honestly felt Brock was playing a good game and that his physical ability was better than Manning’s. Brock was moving the ball well. As visions of dead duck passes swirled in my head, I wasn’t sure Manning would be able to pull the Broncos out of their rut.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not only did Manning electrify the stadium, he electrified his offense and he electrified the Denver defense as well. It was hard to believe what was happening before our eyes. Physically, Manning looked sharp. After taking the field, he moved the Broncos 80 yards in eight plays. The drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Anderson.
Manning was quick on his feet and threw the ball with zip that we haven’t seen since, perhaps, week 1. As it turns out, Manning really was healthy and ready to play.
The positive shift Manning’s leadership brought to the Denver Broncos reminded me a bit of the Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow era of the past. Mechanically, Orton was the better quarterback but with his glum, sleepy-eyed presence he couldn’t seem move his offense well. Bring in Tim Tebow, despite his long list of bad QB mechanics, and you had a different team on the field. He entered the huddle big-eyed, confident and with energy. And guess what? He won games because of his spark on the field with the Broncos.
If there’s any wisdom to take away from Sunday’s Broncos win, it’s that you can never discount energy and moxie when it comes to leadership. No, there is no “I” team but Peyton proved that one man can change the direction of a team in an instant. Over the past two years of Peyton injuries and aging we’ve forgotten about his ability to lead an entire team. He proved he still has that ability on Sunday.
Moving forward into the playoffs, I love how sports reporters ask Kubiak immediately if he knows who he’s starting. Will it be Osweiler or Manning? After what we just saw on Sunday, the obvious answer is Manning. Stupid question.
But as coaches do, Kubiak said he hasn’t made the decision yet. And while Manning is the obvious answer, Kubiak could do some interesting, unorthodox things. Perhaps prepare the offense for two quarterbacks? Start Manning and then midway through the second quarter bring in Brock for a different, behind the center attack? Switch back-and-forth from there?
Kubiak and the Broncos offense have the tools and the ability to really screw with whatever defense they will go against. Two quarterbacks, two different attacks. Sure, a conservative-minded coach would say ‘hell no’ to that idea, but why not?
It’s taken the Broncos two quarterbacks to reach this point. Why not use them both in the playoffs? It’s a storybook ending I’d like to read.
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