Passing Judgment: Peyton Manning is the Man

Peyton ManningSeven touchdown passes and 462 yards.  It was a fantasy football player’s dream (or nightmare if you were playing against him or left him on your bench) to see Manning put up Madden 25-like statistics in Thursday night’s NFL Kickoff game.  I for one was tormented because Manning is both on one of my fantasy teams and against me in another league.  But it’s ok, I can take a step back and just marvel at what Manning accomplished.  It isn’t every day that we see an NFL quarterback throw seven touchdown passes in one game.  In fact, it was the first time it had been done since 1969.  What made this so much more special is what Peyton Manning means to the NFL.

As we all know, Manning underwent a serious operation a couple years ago which cost him the entire 2011 season.  There was much doubt as to whether he would ever be able to play again given the severity of the injury to his neck and the real risks of permanent damage.  After he was released by the Colts, the Broncos signed him to a long-term contract and he immediately paid dividends in 2012.  Not only did he come back and lead Denver into the playoffs, he put up incredible numbers that had him in the discussion for MVP only to be outshined by an historic season by Adrian Peterson.

Manning has arguably been the face of the NFL for almost 15 years.  The former number one overall draft pick in 1998 turned the Colts’ franchise completely around by his second season and he never looked back.  His squeaky clean background, exemplary on-field performance, surprisingly witty sense of humor, and charitable work in the community has earned him the right to be the face of the NFL.  So after having such a dramatic and successful comeback in 2012, what could he possibly do to top that?

The Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions, but it is plainly obvious that they are a shell of the team that celebrated with the Lombardi Trophy just seven months ago.  After losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens’ vaunted defense is now pedestrian.  Plus, the Ravens had to play the Kickoff game on the road because the Orioles refused to change their home game to accommodate them.  Furthermore, Peyton Manning was pissed off that NBC and the NFL littered his home field and town with pictures of Joe Flacco promoting the game ahead of time.  All signs pointed towards a big day for Manning and Denver.  But who would have thought it would be as big as it was.

It started off slow, but by the second quarter Manning was in the zone.  And he also found the end zone just as frequently firing off his seven touchdown passes.  In an era where a lot of the talk is about the new style of quarterbacking by the likes of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, the fact remains that the old dogs’ old tricks still work.  Manning never had much speed to roll outside the pocket and he never had the strongest arm in the league.  At his age, those skills have deteriorated even more.  But what Manning still has is his intelligence, his creativity, and one of the most accurate arms in the league.  It doesn’t hurt that he has a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal including Wes Welker and the newest fantasy darling, Julius Thomas.

It is only the first game of the first week of the season, so we don’t want to rush to any conclusions either way.  But think about what you saw on Thursday night because it was something you will probably never see again any time soon.  Peyton Manning should be celebrated for his historic performance, especially for everything he has had to overcome the past couple years.  It also proves that he once again belongs in the upper echelon of fantasy quarterbacks.  If you don’t think so, then go look at your rankings and find someone else who put up numbers like that.

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