Jared Wickerham - Getty Images
The free agent catch of the offseason by a long shot showed Monday night that he still has what it takes to carry the Denver Broncos as far as they hoped he could.
Peyton Manning has been trying to shake his doubters for some time now. Not that the Denver Broncos quarterback has really been concerned to any real degree with his critics among NFL fans and sportswriters. Rather, the natural doubts that creep in on a quarterback on the downside of his career coming off a season-ending surgery is automatically placed in such a category. And when you're Peyton Manning, everything is magnified.
In the offseason, Manning's free agent tour around the league was the daily buzz that football fans devoured. Even the Kansas City Chiefs made a public overture that they were interested and numerous teams like the Cardinals and Titans got in on the action as well. But the Broncos won in the end, and despite the furor and millions of dollars thrown his way, Manning still had a section of the population who doubted his ability to move forward after nerve surgery(ies) in his neck.
Early in the season, it appeared that some of those critics might have been right. The Broncos started the season looking rather mediocre at times. After all, they beat the Steelers and Raiders, but lost to any team that looks like a playoff candidate. The Falcons, Texans and Patriots all defeated the Broncos and Manning had some games where his arm looked, well, old, and the quarterback wasn't able to carry his team on his shoulder like days gone by.
But what people might have forgotten is that each game is a major learning experience for a quarterback not only returning to the league after a missed season but one who is with an entirely new franchise. In short, he's only going to get better.
He showed that off tonight in the AFC West showdown against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. After trailing 24-0 at the half, Manning and company put together the adjustments necessary to win the game largely on the arm of Manning. The end result was another comeback victory anchored by a nearly flawless performance from Manning: 24 of 30 for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.
On the national stage, Peyton Manning showed his stuff. Against his primary rival in the AFC West, Manning took over. It was the perfect time for Manning and the Broncos to make a statement and they did. As long as Manning is healthy, the Broncos are the team to beat. In fact, they were even the team to beat before Manning arrived, as illustrated by last year's division title.
It turns out that the expensive bet was the safe one.