What Marcus Peters started this Sunday looked a lot like the end of Peyton Manning. When the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year picked off Manning's first pass attempt of the game on an under-thrown wobble, it signaled, in a way, the beginning of one career, and the conclusion of another.
At least, that's how it should be remembered. On the Broncos' following drive, Manning was sacked and fumbled the football. The next play, Manning completed an anticlimactic four yard check-down in the flat to running back Ronnie Hillman, and in doing so passed Brett Favre for the all time passing yardage record.
The game stopped for a moment and that cheezy voice you hear in movie previews interrupted us over the loudspeakers to announce the achievement. Manning tossed the game-ball to the sidelines for safe keeping. Marcus Peters walked away from his teammates to be sure to give Manning a respectful salute that seemed to also suggest a "I ain't done yet."
It was not as happy a moment for Manning as it should have been -- indeed, as it deserved to be. But there it was. When you throw for 70 bazillion yards, you cannot expect the one yard that gets you the record to mean much. Nor can you expect the one yard that becomes your final yard to mean much.
The ball Manning threw will be taken away and put in a nice case for display at the Hall of Fame. But it's really not any different a ball from the thousands of others he's thrown. It's no different than the one Peters took to the Chiefs' sidelines after the pick. No different from the three other balls that landed in the hands of Kansas City players later that game.
That's just how football plays out. Sometimes the ball -- your ball, your story, your narrative -- ends up in someone else's hands. The enemy's hands. You don't always go out on top.
Or do you? Manning may reappear later this season, rejuvenated, healed up, uninjured, and ready for one final playoff run. That scares me. And it should scare you, too. Though I get the very strong feeling that it does not scare Marcus Peters. (Check out MNchiefsfan's awesome film review of Peters.)
But, then, the Manning we saw this Sunday was not scary. He was not the Manning that beat the Chiefs seven times in a row since coming to Denver. Somehow, he wasn't even the Manning that led a comeback victory against the Chiefs in Week 2. He was Manning at his worst.
If this is the end, the uneventful end, then Manning will eventually, rightfully, be remembered for the yards that meant something -- not the four yards that bookended his career. But if a player cannot call it quits with one final Super Bowl ring, then he has to end it in failure. Those are the options. And at that point, it is no longer a story of the legend of Peyton Manning, but the emerging legends of Marcus Peters, Sean Smith, Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, and the Kansas City Chiefs. The legends of the Denver Broncos' enemy.
Because, as unfair as it is, as cruel as it is, that's how it should be remembered. It was the Kansas City Chiefs who put an end to Peyton Manning.
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Now for some stats.
We already know, via Joel Thorman yesterday, that Pro Football Focus gave Manning the worst grade they have issued to a quarterback in their history for his efforts Sunday.
Here are some others:
- Manning became the first quarterback since 2007 to post a 0.0 passer rating.
- His single-game QBR was 0.0 as well, making him one of only 10 players to accomplish the feat since 1998, the year Manning entered the league.
- AY/A (Adjusted Air Yards per Attempt) is an improved passer rating metric that allows for negative scores. Manning's AY/A against the Chiefs was -7.25. That's the lowest number for any quarterback with at least 20 attempts in the past 30 years.
- It's an even worse display than one particular 21-year-old rookie put up with the 49ers against Manning's Colts in 2005. 32 quarterbacks have put up an AY/A of -3.00 or worse since 1978, but none have ever seen a number worse than -5.00 before Manning this past Sunday. (It is interesting to note that Manning is the oldest to appear on this list, and Alex Smith the youngest.)
Manning had an historically dreadful game, but the Denver offense has played poorly this whole season. After all, Manning cannot take all the blame for a unit that Football Outsiders will surely rank as the worst in the league after Sunday's "Mile High Meltdown" (h/t AP user, madmannkc), brought to you courtesy of Bob Sutton and the Kansas City defense.
By the major metrics I typically use to judge quarterback/offense play, Manning is having both the worst season of any quarterback this year, and the worst season of his entire career.
- Manning's 4.95 AY/A for 2015 is the worst in the league among quarterbacks with at least 7 starts. Arranging the chart by ANY/A (same stat, but including quarterback sacks) yields the same conclusion.
- It's also a worse mark than his rookie year, 1998; meaning his career has most likely, after two amazing decades of Hall of Fame worthy football, fallen off the dreaded age cliff.
- Manning has now thrown an interception in nine straight games, easily the worst stretch of his career.
- Football Outsiders' QB ratings currently feature Manning at 31st in DYAR (productivity metric) and 29th in DVOA (efficiency metric). There is good reason to believe those will drop to 32nd and 32nd after Sunday's performance. (Unlike AY/A and ANY/A, Football Outsiders' statistics are adjusted for defensive opponent.)
Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than he showed on Sunday. He may still be a better quarterback than he has shown so far this year. He may even be better than he has shown since his decline began around the midway point of last season.
The problems with Denver's offense go beyond Manning; but the Denver defense is still elite, and the Broncos, therefore, are likely still playing football come January. If Kansas City does use this huge victory, the biggest of the Andy Reid era, to earn a playoff birth themselves, it would be a strange and scary and beautiful and terrible thing to see Denver as their draw in the Wild Card round.
Week 2 was our nightmare. Week 10 was theirs. What will Week 18 bring?
Enjoy it while you can, AP. We got San Diego on Sunday.