With a run-obsessed coach in Gary Kubiak, and Peyton Manning now 39, this was supposed to be the year that the Denver Broncos transitioned to a ground team. After all, Kubiak is the same guy who’s coached 10 teams to top-5 rushing totals in a season, and he also engineered incredible seasons for Terrell Davis, Arian Foster and Justin Forsett. But following a first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs last Thursday where Denver failed to get on the board, the playbook went out the window and Manning took over.
The future Hall of Famer finished 26-for-45 passing with 256 yards and 3 touchdowns. Most importantly, he guided the team 80 yards down the field in the fourth quarter to tie the game with a hostile crowd chanting against their every move. So much for this being the year that Manning handed the ball off to C.J. Anderson for four quarters – No. 18 is still in firm command of this team.
This 80-yard drive would pave the way for Bradley Roby’s game-winning, 21-yard fumble return. But even after Roby’s incredible play, one couldn’t help but think about the reason why they were in this position in the first place.
“Peyton was so calm in the huddle on that drive,” Anderson said about the game-tying march. “You got to see what he’s still got.”
At this point in his career, Manning is not going to set any personal single-season records. He’s getting older, his arm is a little less strong, and this isn’t the best offensive line that he’s ever played behind. However, you don’t just cast away 18 years of NFL experience from a guy who’s done nothing but win in his NFL career. When the game is on the line, Manning will be the one making the tough decisions.
Once Kansas City jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the gunslinger scrapped Kubiak’s short routes and runs in favor of vertical passing routes. This allowed Denver to close the first half with two touchdown drives to knot the score up at 14-14 going into the half.
The second half was again a battle, but one that Manning could keep up with, even against a vaunted KC defense that was playing at home. On a night where Ronnie Hillman and Anderson could only muster 61 yards on 21 carries, their signal caller had to bail the team out in what should be an all-important division game.
Who knows how far Denver will go this season with their new-look team. But if their 2-0 start is any indication, they certainly can’t be counted out of the Super Bowl picture. This is especially the case when considering that Manning has proved that he still has it.