Quarterback Weekly: Let the Sheriff Ride Home

Folks, we need to talk. You, and by you I mean every football fan besides myself, have done a great disservice to one of the greatest quarterbacks our beloved sport has ever seen. I’m referring, of course, to Peyton Manning and the absolute abomination of a season that he is having. Now before you roll your eyes and tune out my endless piling-on of Peyton I want to assure you that I’m not here to make fun of him this time. Today’s Quarterback Weekly is a plea to stop the madness and just let Peyton GO HOME ALREADY. It’s idiotic to continue pretending as if Peyton is still the player who threw 55 touchdowns a couple of seasons ago. It’s clear that his time has passed and if we really love football then we would stop urging him to get out on the field every Sunday and kill himself. Walk with me.

When John Elway was recruiting Peyton Manning to Denver following his league-shaking release from the Colts the main reason he was able to beat out the Titans, Cardinals, and 49ers was his ability to relate to Peyton as an old quarterback trying to win a Super Bowl. Elway cast a vision of Peyton winning another ring and riding off into the sunset just as he himself had many years ago. The similar circumstances lent to the idea that Elway would know how to take care of Peyton, build an ideal team around him, and help him reach the big game one last time. The formula seemed to have all come together in 2013 when Peyton broke the record for touchdowns in a season, beat his rival Tom Brady in the AFC Championship, and headed to New Jersey to complete the story-book ending to his career. Peyton and Elway’s dream, however, quickly turned into a nightmare as the Seahawks, the same team to which Peyton wouldn’t even return a call during his free agency, completely decimated the vaunted Broncos offense and cruised to a 43-8 win. There would be no ride into the sunset for the Sherriff.

Elway was no stranger to losing in February, he himself lost three of the five Super Bowls that he appeared in as Denver’s quarterback, but what happened next was something he could never anticipate. Peyton’s four, count em’, four neck surgeries were coming home to roost. Is that how that saying goes? I wouldn’t know, I’m from San Diego not Alabama, okay? Rumors began to circulate that Peyton was losing feeling in his throwing hand and strength in the same arm. This would affect how far he could throw the ball, how quickly he could get it there, and the motion with which he would need to throw to maximize his velocity on the ball. This was the beginning of, as I call it, duck season for Peyton. His passes were noticeably wobbly in the air, not reaching his receivers, and clearly causing him great strain whenever he needed to send the ball down the field. Manning’s cerebral nature allowed him to make the best of what he had physically and continue to put his team in a position to win. His struggles were exposed for the football world to see when Denver was trounced by Peyton 2.0 and the Colts in the playoffs, 24-13. Manning struggled to find his receivers in that game and looked visibly frustrated with his own inability to control the game as he had so many times before. The Colts sent Peyton packing with the luggage of a possible retirement that he’d have to work out in the coming months.

Enter 2015 as Peyton returns to the Broncos facility having seen Tom Brady win his record-tying fourth Super Bowl ring and spending his offseason hearing everyone and their dog wonder if his career was done. One of my favorite stories from Gary Meyer’s newly-released Brady vs. Manning, an in-depth look at the upbringings, successes, failures, and ensuing greatness of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, comes from Brady’s historic 2007 season. As you know unless you live under a rock where you regularly take hallucinogenic drugs, Brady broke the single-season record for touchdowns in Week 17 against the Giants, also completing the Patriots’ 16-0 season. Before the game in which Brady threw two touchdowns to surpass Peyton’s 49, Peyton made a call to his little brother Eli, starting quarterback for the Giants, to pass along a message to New York’s defense: keep Brady out of the end zone. They couldn’t do it in the end, but I love this story because it illustrates the competitive nature of Peyton’s career in relation to Brady. They may not trade verbal jabs or shove each other on the field, but these are two of the most competitive guys we’ve ever seen play football.

So anyway here’s Peyton, just saw Brady win his fourth ring, digging in his heels to return for one more run at the Super Bowl. In week 1 against the Ravens, Peyton threw for 175 yards and an interception, but the game was a defensive battle so everyone looked the other way. The next week on Thursday night, Kansas City gifted Peyton with multiple short fields off of turnovers to inflate his stats and give away a game they had no business losing. As the season has gone on, Peyton’s arm has looked worse and worse, but delusional fans have convinced themselves that he’s fine just as long as Denver keeps winning. Well guess what? They’re not winning anymore, people, and we need to be honest about the state of Peyton’s health right now.

All of Manning’s issues came to an ugly head on Sunday against the Chiefs, when Peyton was ultimately benched in favor of backup QB Brock Osweiler. Peyton’s stat line for the day: 5 completions on 20 attempts, 35 yards, 1.8 yards per completion, ZERO touchdowns, and FOUR INTERCEPTIONS. Talking to my dad about it last night he commented, “He’s must be injured because that’s just not like Peyton”. There is not a mysterious injury at play here! Why is it so difficult for people to accept that this man has undergone four neck surgeries and CAN’T FEEL HIS GODDMANED HAND?! Why is everyone so fixated on ignoring the very plain facts that are right in front of our faces?? Peyton Manning is not looking like Peyton Manning because he is 39 years old and, just in case you didn’t hear me the first time, has had his neck operated on four times. In nine games this season Peyton has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions just twice, in weeks two and three consecutively. His season ratio currently stands at 9 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Folks, when are we going to let Peyton go home? When are we going to accept that his time has passed and that he needs to move on in the best interest of his legacy and his long-term quality of life? This isn’t just about football at this point. If Peyton keeps driving himself to the point of personal destruction it’s a possibility that he won’t be able to hold his own children because the feeling in his right arm will leave him completely. That should bother you.

The thing is, Peyton won’t walk away as long as the Broncos have a chance to win in the postseason and he believes that he can take them the distance. It’s not a far-fetched possibilty that Denver could reach the AFC Championship should Peyton be able to throw one or two touchdowns per week and find a way to limit his turnovers based on the strength of their defense. However, the more the Broncos have to win despite Peyton, the more painful this will become. After Brett Favre’s magical run in 2009 came to end against the Saints in the NFC Championship game I wanted him to walk away. There was nothing but bad times and painful memories coming from that point on. Nobody enjoyed watching an injured Joe Namath in Los Angeles or an ineffective Johnny Unitas in San Diego. Unitas, franchise icon of the Baltimore Colts, eventually lost all use of his right arm before passing away. Is that how we want to see Peyton Manning live out the rest of his days? Is that how he deserves to end his career, broken and scarred by the game that he gave so much to? In 2012 as a senior in high school, while acting as an editor for the school newspaper, I watched and reported on Peyton Manning’s press conference that would end an era of Colts football and resolved that Peyton deserved a better ending. Seeing him now pushing his body past its own limits I am certain that Peyton deserves a better ending. The day after Thanksgiving I’ll be on a plane headed to Denver to spend the weekend with my buddy Cole who also happens to be a big Broncos fan. We’re both pretty excited for the latest and maybe last iteration of Brady vs. Manning, but I’ rather see Brock Osweiler start that game if it meant that Peyton was no longer one hit away from ruining his very real life. It’s up to those close to him to let him go home.

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