When the Colts waved goodbye to Peyton Manning last Spring, I was content with Jim Irsay’s decision. In my eyes, Manning would never recapture his prime form (think 2004-09), and it was a once-in-a-decade-or-so opportunity for the Colts to draft his franchise quarterback replacement. While I still believe the latter to be true with Andrew Luck in town, I have to admit being wrong about Manning’s career.
He can still get it done.
Last night’s 34-14 pasting of the Saints (Manning: 305 yards, 3 TD) has put the Broncos firmly into first place in the crumbling AFC West. They’ve escaped a brutal seven-game stretch at 4-3, and still have four division games remaining against the hapless Chiefs (twice), struggling Raiders, and mediocre Chargers. But, besides team success, take a look at Manning’s numbers over his last five starts:
133-194 (69%), 1,619 yards, 14 TD, INT (Matt Willis messed up route), 115.8 rating.
For the season, Manning leads the AFC in yards per game (301.9), yards per attempt (8.2), touchdowns (17), completion percentage (68.5%), and rating (109.0). Even the advanced stats love Manning as his Passer Rating Index is 131, second only to his record-setting 2004 season (152). Also, he’s #1 in the NFL in Total QBR (82.5), if you have any idea what ESPN’s all-knowing metric means (Clutch index? What?). He’s on pace to throw for almost 5,000 yards (4,960), which would be nearly 300 yards better than his previous season-high, and 39 touchdowns.
In the aftermath of The (Other) Decision, both the Colts and Manning are thriving
He's a no-brainer MVP candidate, and the Broncos are a serious Super Bowl contender.
If I was to hand you a piece of paper with Manning’s stats on it in March of last year, would it have changed your decision process as it pertains to keeping Manning in Indy? I’d be lying to you if I said it wouldn’t for me. However, we didn’t know then what we know now. Agreeing to pick up a $28 million option and buy into the remaining four years and $72 million left of Manning’s contract, coming off three four neck procedures and approaching his 36th birthday, would’ve been a huge roll of the dice. But, if anyone could come back for those dire circumstances and prove the doubters wrong, it's Peyton Manning, right? As Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report pointed out, keeping Manning was do-able from a cap/salary standpoint, so that counterargument is off the table. They could've brought him back - the only question is: should they have?
Honestly, I can’t tell you whether or not I would’ve advocated keeping Manning if I knew then what I know now. What I can tell you is that the decision would’ve been a hell of a lot harder than it was. I figured Manning could perform at a high-level if healthy, but not to this extent. I'm not positive John Elway even knew that the success would come so quickly.
Colts’ fans should be happy with Andrew Luck, who has shown signs of greatness and has his team in playoff position. It's very likely that the decision ends up being a win for both sides; Colts get to enjoy another decade-plus of success (and, hopefully, eventual Super Bowl contention), while the Broncos capitalize on 18's four-year title window. However, I doubted Peyton Manning, and I think it’s time for all of us to admit we were wrong for doing so.
Even 1,000 miles away, his performance still defies comprehension.