The one thing Peyton Manning wanted most is the one thing he didn’t do. He broke so many records, shattered so many expectations last season. Then the Seattle Seahawks defense shattered his championship dreams.
When the 43–8 beat-down in Super Bowl XLVIII was over, and the Seahawks had lowered their “Legion of Boom” defense on what might have been the best offense the NFL has ever known, Manning was left with an empty feeling, despite all he had accomplished. He set records for, among other things, single-season passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). The 76 touchdowns and 606 points scored by the Broncos were NFL records, too.
But at age 38, it remains all about the ring for the man who is arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation. And after the devastating way last season ended, it’s left some wondering if there’s any way he can do it again.
“If it was anyone else, you’d say there’s no way, especially after the way it ended,” says one NFL executive. “But do you really want to bet against Peyton Manning?”
The Broncos are attempting to do what no team has done since the 1972 Miami Dolphins — win the Super Bowl one year after losing it. No Super Bowl loser has even made it back to the Super Bowl the following year since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.
“You have to kind of re-establish your identity of the 2014 team,” Manning says. “The 2013 team, it was a good season in a lot of ways. There is no question it did not end the way we wanted it to, but we have to find a way to build off that and take a step further — try to finish.”
Manning’s legacy is secure, but even he knows what another championship could do. His Super Bowl — in which he went 34-of-49 for 280 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — added fuel to his critics’ fire. That’s why even though John Fox lauded Manning for “maybe the most productive season in the history of the league a year ago,” he made sure to add that for the Broncos, “all the eggs are in the basket for ’14, and we’re doing everything we can to bring that championship back here to Denver.”
“With Peyton, there is no question, you never know how much longer he’s going to be around,” adds Broncos VP John Elway. “So in the mind, there is some urgency.”
That’s why they need Manning to produce another miracle. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl just two years after neck surgery nearly ended his career prematurely. Now he needs to do it again, before his career finally runs out of time.
—by Ralph Vacchiano