Monday, January 25, 2016

A deserved encore for Peyton Manning

He won an SEC championship at Tennessee and a Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts but I suspect the victory over New England on Sunday ranks as the most satisfying win of Peyton Manning's career.

The reward: a fourth Super Bowl berth.

This really is remarkable. A couple of months ago, we were writing the guy off. He was damaged goods. His body was breaking down. His football obituary was waiting to be posted. The Denver Broncos had turned to their quarterback of the future, Brock Osweiler, as their quarterback of the present.

But if Manning is riding off into the sunset, he's doing it on his own terms. There is no greater stage than Super Bowl 50.

I really do think this will be Manning's final game. Father Time waits for no man, including Peyton Manning. Win or lose, what better way to go out?

The foot injury that kept him out of six games in November and December is turning out to be a blessing in disguise. He appears fresh and about as healthy as a 18-year NFL player can be.

Contrast that to a year ago when he hit the playoffs wounded and worn. He had trouble setting up to pass. His throws had no zip. He was an easy target.

Not now. Granted, his accuracy has been off on occasion but the arm strength is there. His stats against New England were pedestrian by his standards -- 17-of-32 for 176 yards. When necessary, though, he was able to fit the ball into tight windows.

He also avoided the big mistake. He has not committed a turnover in two playoff games.

And then there was that 12-yard run for a vital first down midway through the second quarter against the Patriots. Nobody saw that one coming. When was the last time he had a 12-yard run? I'll answer that. He had a 27-yard run for the Colts -- in 2010.

In his previous three Super Bowl appearances -- two in Indianapolis, one in Denver -- Manning has been the driving force. Now he is managing the game for a team built around its defense and running attack.

In short, he's adjusted. That's what great athletes do.

In the process, he prolonged a remarkable football career. There is one more game to play.

And I'm betting he will play it very, very well.

Reach David Climer on Twitter @DavidClimer.

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