I’ve often felt like the last believer left in Peyton Manning, that the Denver Broncos can win the Super Bowl with him at quarterback, and do so with him playing well in the process. There have been some rocky times holding on to that belief this season, but I still think Denver is going to beat New England on Sunday for the AFC Championship and then win the Super Bowl two weeks later in Santa Clara. But that does require one thing—at some point, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak needs to turn Peyton loose.
Whenever I see Manning go into the shotgun formation that he’s used pretty much throughout his soon-to-be Hall Of Fame career, I see him consistently make throws. Denver has played much of the season with Manning under center in a more traditional formation, geared toward power running. I think that’s played a big role in some of his struggles, at least as big as the bad foot that sidelined him in midseason.
Yet whenever Peyton needed to make a play, he did it. When the Broncos got their backs to the wall and went to the shotgun, he still delivered. Does anyone remember the dramatic comeback in Week 2 at Kansas City on Thursday Night? Or how, after digging himself a hole at Cleveland, Peyton promptly threw a long touchdown pass to win it. Or how he immediately came in a Week 17 game against San Diego and, with homefield advantage on the line, promptly stirred the offense to life?
And if you want something even more recent, how about last week against Pittsburgh? Manning was hurt in the first half by dropped passes—six in all—but with the season on the line in the fourth quarter, he drilled several key throws and pulled out the win over the Steelers.
Let me be clear on one point—I don’t fault Kubiak or his boss, the great John Elway, for going to be the more power-oriented approach. In fact, I think in the bigger picture I think it’s smart. Elway, who won two Super Bowls with Terrell Davis providing the power, knows well the importance of being able to muscle teams at this stage of the postseason. One big reason—in fact the only reason—for Peyton’s playoff struggles over his career is that his teams have not been physical enough.
That made this season a balancing act. Denver had to develop the requisite power game, while still working with an all-time great quarterback that’s most prolific out of the shotgun. It was bound to look messy at times and it did. Manning getting hurt didn’t help matters, but now he’s at least healthy enough to perform and the time has come.
If Denver is going to win, they’re going to need a lot more possessions with Peyton in the shotgun and doing his thing, adjusting the play at the line of scrimmage, moving everyone into position and just taking charge. His team is tough enough to move the ball on the ground if need be and the defense is the best in the league. To this point, I understand why the Broncos have kept their great quarterback under wraps, but the time has come to turn him loose. Let Peyton be Peyton on Sunday.