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Peyton Manning is 37. He’s in his 16th season. He’s playing for his second team and — fourth head coach — in a career that bridges three decades.
Ancient by the NFL calendar, he should be one of two things by now: an emergency backup or retired. But he’s neither.
A lock for his fifth MVP award (no one else has more than three), Manning is more Manning-like than ever. Otherworldly, to be precise.
He has the “Star Wars” numbers to prove it.
In his two seasons with Denver, Manning has thrown for 10,136 yards and 92 touchdown passes. Those aren’t typos. Those are his numbers. Take a moment and let that sink in.
Especially the 92 TDs.
Manning threw 37 last year, which — until this year — was the second-highest total of his career. He fired an NFL-record 55 this season.
No player in league history has thrown that many touchdowns in a two-year span. Not Tom Brady. Not Dan Marino. Not Jim Kelly. Not Joe Montana. Not Dan Fouts.
To put it in perspective, Manning threw a combined 85 touchdowns in his first three seasons in Indianapolis. He didn’t reach 92 until early in his fourth season.
Now, consider the passing yards.
He threw for 4,659 last year, which — until this year — was the second-highest total of his career. He threw for an NFL-record 5,477 this season.
Yeah, he was as dead-eye as ever.
In a league-leading 679 attempts, he had a career-high-tying 450 completions for a 68.3 completion percentage. The latter figure was just a few ticks shy of his career-best 68.8.
Equally impressive, Manning threw only 10 interceptions, just a shade higher than his career-low of nine. His quarterback rating of 115.1 was tops in the NFL among full-time starters.
Oh, and he tied an NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes against Baltimore in the season-opener.
Manning’s season was, in short, one for the ages — one the league is not likely to see ever see again.
Granted, records are made to be broken and all that, but in totality — from touchdowns to yards to accuracy — the odds of anyone topping what Manning did this season are just about zero. And the odds of someone doing it in the context of winning, like the Broncos did, might be below zero.
Manning didn’t put up Star Wars numbers for the sake of Star Wars numbers. They computed into wins. Denver is, for the second straight season, the top seed in AFC and for the second straight season finished with the best record the NFL, sharing the distinction with Seattle at 13-3.
But here’s the amazing part. Manning is playing his position at the highest level imaginable — at the highest level in NFL history — at a time when he should be holding a clipboard or spending his money.
And to think three years ago, his career was over. Or so it seemed.
Three years removed from a battery of neck surgeries that convinced Jim Irsay that Manning’s best Sundays — if not all Sundays — were over, the soon-to-be MVP is proving otherwise. In the boldest possible “I told you so” terms.
All that’s left for Manning to prove is that he can do the one thing he hasn’t done in Denver: Win a playoff game.
If he does that, he’ll be even with Tim Tebow.
For all his regular-season greatness, Manning still hasn’t distinguished himself in one area that matters most — winning in the postseason. That fact that he hasn’t done so consistently complicates his legacy.
In all, Manning is 9-11 in the postseason. Eight times, his teams have been one-and-done, including last year. His career regular-season passer rating is 95.7. In the playoffs, it’s 86.2.
Why the dip is really hard to pinpoint. Maybe impossible.
Choker? Not fair or accurate. He’s been to two Super Bowls and has a ring. One could argue one’s not enough for a player of his ability (Irsay has in fact stoked that argument), but a ring is a ring. Fran Tarkenton would certainly love to have one, as would Marino, Kelly and Fouts.
On the Super Bowl front, Manning goes into the Hall of Fame a champion. Whether enshrinement will come with the “greatest ever” label remains to be seen. Manning, a student of not only of the game but its history, would no doubt like to be remembered as such — which remains a possibility, if he parlays his season for the ages into a Lombardi Trophy for the Broncos.
Best advice for Denver fans: Hope for the best, and brace for the worst.
We got pretty good at that here in Indy.
Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal
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