Omaha, We Have a Problem: Peyton Manning Plays Like Chelsea Manning on Record-Setting Day

Peyton Manning, Louis Vasquez, Tamba Hali
The Associated Press

Peyton Manning showed himself better than Brett Favre but worse than Brock Osweiler all in one game. It’s been that kind of Twilight Zone season for the 18-year veteran.

Manning broke Favre’s career passing record on Sunday. But one of the most unforgettable moments of his career came on one of its most forgettable afternoons.

The Kansas City Chiefs romped at Mile High 29-13, allowing two garbage-time touchdowns to the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos. Yes, Gary Kubiak benched Peyton Manning.

The Broncos dropped their second in a row with a road game against the resurgent Chicago Bears and a visit by the undefeated New England Patriots looming. Like their quarterback, the Denver Broncos’ future appears not as bright as it once did.

Manning completed five passes in 20 attempts on Sunday. He fumbled, got sacked twice, threw four interceptions, and accumulated just 35 yards in the air. He completed one more pass to Broncos receivers than he did to Chiefs defenders. He finished his afternoon in the third quarter with a 0.0 passer rating.

Peyton Manning’s not that bad. But he is that old. His body won’t let his mind get its way. People declared Tom Brady in his twilight in a crushing defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Brady threw two picks and the Chiefs strip sacked him in a 41-14 humiliation. “We need to make sure we never have this feeling again,” a determined Brady vowed after the game. He subsequently won his fourth Super Bowl and plays on track to win his third MVP award this season. Manning, God and body willing, needs to similarly turn lemons into lemonade the way his rival did after his nadir against the Chiefs. Then the people writing obituaries disguised as columns feel the egg on their faces.

He broke a record. He got benched. That, in a nutshell, is Peyton Manning’s frustrating 2015 campaign—a living legend facing the fate of all legends attempting to keep their careers alive. A QB who led the NFL in touchdown passes four times and set the single-season mark with 55 just two years ago now leads the NFL in interceptions with 17 (versus nine TDs). When you debut in an NFL uniform before Google, Facebook, or YouTube appeared on the web, you come to expect change. You just don’t expect your body to change, too.

It’s been Manning’s cruel fate to take the field buttressed by the kind of defense he wished for in Indianapolis but in a 39-year-old shell. Increasingly, the 39-year-old’s ailments suggest the body of one of those aging, ageless wonders celebrating 39th birthdays annually. It’s Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform or Joe Namath on the Rams.

Coach Gary Kubiak, a backup quarterback extraordinaire in his playing days, may start Osweiler next week against Chicago just to give Manning time to heal. But Peyton Manning no longer possess all kinds of time. And neither do we if we want to catch another glimpse of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to sling a pigskin since the football gods permitted the forward pass in 1906.

Peyton Manning wasn’t around then. He won’t be around much longer, either.