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Ivey: Manning’s legacy rides on next week

| Monday, January 18, 2016

At halftime of Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game against Pittsburgh, Denver found itself trailing, 10-9. All the Broncos’ points had come from field goals, and their offense, led by veteran quarterback Peyton Manning, looked sloppy. Sure, many of his receivers kept dropping passes, but Manning’s throws were often off target, and the Broncos had to rely on their running game to get things going. Many football fans were saying to themselves, “Here we go again.”

The future Hall of Famer’s career has consistently been marred by playoff failure. In Manning’s 18-year NFL career, he only has one Super Bowl ring. By comparison, his arch nemesis, New England’s Tom Brady, has won four. Manning-led teams have lost a number of close playoff games, too. Manning has developed a reputation as a good quarterback who can never win in big games. Of the 14 years he’s been in playoffs, Manning’s teams have lost the first game nine times, including last year when the Broncos were ousted from the divisional round by Manning’s old team, Indianapolis.

That loss led to several coaching changes for the Broncos. The day after the loss, the Broncos announced they had mutually parted ways with head coach John Fox, and Fox took many of his assistant coaches with him. Many people wondered how this would affect Manning and his future with the Broncos.

A week later, the Broncos announced they had hired Gary Kubiak as the team’s new head coach. Not long after, they hired Rick Dennison as their new offensive coordinator. Many wondered how effective Manning would be learning a new offense that centered on running the ball.

The 2015 season started out great for Manning and the Broncos. Despite signs of aging, Manning led Denver to a 7-0 start. But in a Nov. 15 loss to Kansas City, Manning hurt his shoulder and was replaced by backup Brock Osweiler. Osweiler proceeded to lead the Broncos to wins over the Bears, Patriots and Chargers in his first three starts. The Bronco offense looked significantly better under Osweiler, and many football writers and fans believed the Broncos needed to sit Manning and let Osweiler start for the rest of the season. Others worried this would tarnish Manning’s legacy because if the Broncos made a deep playoff run, it wouldn’t have been Manning who led him there.

During the Broncos last game of the regular season, however, the Broncos offense was struggling under Osweiler. At the beginning of the third quarter, with his team down 13-7, Manning entered the game and received a standing ovation from the home crowd. His entry seemed to rejuvenate the Broncos, who drove down the field and scored a touchdown on Manning’s first drive. The Broncos ended up winning the game 27-20 against San Diego and clinching the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

Which brings us back to Sunday’s game.

Trailing by one point with just under ten minutes left in the game, Manning engineered a 14-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that took 6:52 off the clock and then found Demaryius Thomas for successful two-point conversion attempt to put the Broncos up seven points with three minutes left in the game. The Denver defense held, and the Broncos won the game to advance to the AFC Championship game against — who else — his rival Brady and the Patriots, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

With all the shifts in perception of him over the last year, Manning’s entire legacy now could be determined by the next game he plays.

No pressure, Peyton.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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