Most reasonable people universally agree what Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has done this season is utterly remarkable. Considering his age, 37, and the three neck surgeries he had—that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season—and it’s even more amazing.
The admission this week by his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, makes Peyton’s success this year seem almost miraculous. Eli Manning, who knows a little bit about being an NFL quarterback, said this week that he thought Peyton was done playing football after his first neck surgery.
“I saw him after that first surgery, this neck surgery, and I was pretty much convinced that he was done,” Eli Manning said Wednesday on NFL Network. “There was no way he could come back and play football. That first time he went and we were just throwing it in the backyard of our house. We’re throwing 15 yards away, and it was a lob. He couldn’t throw 15 yards on a line. It had no pop.”
But after relentless rehabilitation, Peyton Manning this year threw for a league-high 5,477 yards and a record 55 touchdowns. His touch on the ball appears as good at it has ever been.
Still, his former coach doesn’t think this is Manning’s best year in the NFL. And no, Manning’s old coach doesn’t think No. 18’s best season was 2006, the year that culminated in his only Super Bowl triumph.
Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said in December he thinks Manning was better during the 2004 season than he has been this season.
Dungy said Manning had built a rapport over a four- to seven-year period with the likes of running back Edgerrin James and wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis that he hasn’t been able to quite replicate in just two years in Denver.
The numbers to some degree back up Dungy’s theory. But it’s awfully close.
In the 2004 regular season, Manning had 336 completions on 497 pass attempts for 4,557 yards with 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He had a completion percentage that year of 67.7, and average yards per attempt of 9.2 and a quarterback rating of 121.1.
This year during the regular season, Manning had 450 completions on 659 pass attempts. He had a 68.3 percent completion rate and 8.3 yards per attempt. He only had 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 115.1.
In terms of passer rating, his 2004 regular season is his best, while this season is his second best. Again, there is a razor thin difference in those numbers.
Some might argue that Manning had better overall arm strength in 2004 and better timing with his supporting cast. The argument could also be made that Manning has learned to compensate for a lack of arm strength, that the crafty veteran’s knowledge of the game has become sharper with each passing season and that his touch on the ball this season is as good as any NFL QB.
If you factor in the playoffs, Dungy may want to revise his remarks following Sunday’s Super Bowl. In 2004, the Colts won a Wild Card round game over Denver then were defeated 20-3 by New England in the divisional round.
On the heels of two strong performances in playoff victories this year, Manning will try to earn his second Super Bowl ring versus Seattle on Sunday. And it’s difficult to argue with the greatness of a season that ends with the Lombardi Trophy in hand.