The Peyton Project

He took a big hit, popped up, shook some grass and dirt off his jersey and didn’t look any worse for wear, an excellent sign for the Denver Broncos and their fans in this year and the next few.

Peyton Manning played the entire first half of last night’s preseason scrimmage against the Seattle Seahawks, two or three offensive series more than Coach John Fox had indicated Manning would play prior to the game.  Perhaps the Coach wanted to see how Manning, the four-time NFL MVP, could take a hit as much as fans across the country did.  The results were encouraging.

In fact, after the Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin has knocked Manning down causing an errant pass that landed harmlessly on the Invesco field grass, there was a most bizarre reaction by the home fans.  Cheering… lots of cheering.  After the game, Manning was asked if he was surprised by the roar.  “I might have (been),” he said with a chuckle and wry Peyton Manning smile, “I’ve never heard a crowd cheer for an incompletion before.”

Oh, and on the very next play, he fired a perfectly accurate spiral with some zip, maybe his best pass of the game.  Think he knows he has something to prove?  He does and is relishing the challenge and proving everyone wrong who said he’d never play in the big league again.

Peyton still doesn’t quite look like Peyton – and not just because seeing the tall, lanky Number 18 in a snorting-horse rather than a horseshoe helmet seems like watching a parallel NFL universe.  In the first half, Manning completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards.  Not bad stats at all, especially if you extrapolate the numbers to a whole game.

Unfortunately, two of the seven incompletions were interceptions, neither of them very pretty and scarily reminiscent of Bronco quarterbacks in the last decade.  But this is the preseason.  No one is as sharp as they’ll be in a few weeks, especially a player like Manning, who sat out all of last season.

Manning did have some moments that reminded fans why the Broncos and John Elway happily traded Tim Tebow and signed an injured Manning to a multi-year contract.  In Manning’s last drive of the night, the last drive of the first half, he looked like a poised, seasoned veteran in an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a dropped pass in the end zone by Jacob Tamme, Manning’s old sure handed receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.  Those types of drops will happen by Tamme in the regular season but likely not often.  Manning also look sharp and deadly on an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown culminating with a Willis McGahee 1-yard touchdown run.

All in all, it wasn’t a perfect game for the Broncos and Manning, but this is why they play the scrimmages.  You can pretty much bank on a more consistent performance from all involved when the Pittsburgh Steelers come knocking on Invesco’s door for the season opener on September 9.

And don’t for a second think that Peyton Manning won’t take James Harrison’s best shot, get up with a chuckle and wry smile and drill his next pass, maybe even a touchdown to his old buddy Tamme, who will not drop it this time.


By Jeff Quick

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