Peyton Manning's greatest game
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 29, 2006
It's no secret that Peyton Manning has been sliced and diced over the past two years by the gridiron Ginsu that is the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
But every so often, the Cold, Hard Football Facts come down in favor of the performer they otherwise peg as the Sunshine Superman and the Picasso of Choke Artists.
This is one of those days – and proof yet again that the Cold, Hard Football Facts are swayed not by opinion or emotion, but only by the harsh, inalterable reality of raw numbers. You cannot refute the Cold, Hard Football Facts. You can only stare at them and marvel at their unassailable beauty and wisdom.
And they tell us that, in Week 8 of the 2006 season, in a 34-31 win at Denver, in his ninth year in the league, Peyton Manning played his greatest game as a pro football quarterback.
This was no ordinary five-TD Indy dome-burner over Houston. Instead, he went on the road and abused the toughest defense in football, one that had given up just 44 points in its first six games, and bent it over a back-alley trash barrel like a $10 Thai whore. When it was all over, he pulled up his pants, downed his last slug of lao khao and walked off into the Rocky Mountain sunset as the only undefeated quarterback in the toughest conference in football.
When we look at the circumstances and stakes of the game, the quality of the opponent and Manning's own production, it stands indisputably as his greatest performance. Here are the 10 reasons why:
No. 10 – the stadium
Manning and the Colts won in the toughest arena to visit in the NFL. The Broncos had posted a league-best home record of 34-9 (.791) since moving into Invesco Field in 2001.
No. 9 – the stakes
Manning and the Colts won a key conference battle against one of the two teams positioned to challenge them for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
No. 8 – the opponent
The Broncos entered the contest with a 5-1 record and a five-game win streak that included an impressive 17-7 win over the third premier power in the AFC, New England.
No. 7 – the future
With a win over the Broncos, the Colts currently hold the advantages in the all-important, head-to-head tiebreakers in a hotly contested, three-horse race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC – pending their typically epic showdown next Sunday at New England.
No. 6 – the defense
The Broncos had the best defense in football, allowing just 44 points in six games (7.3 PPG). Manning shredded it for 34 points in a single afternoon.
No. 5 – the offensive assault
The Broncos had given up a record-low two TDs in their first 26 quarters of play. In the next two quarters, Manning and the Colts rumbled over this very same defense for three touchdowns, two field goals and a 2-point conversion, scoring on every drive in the second half.
No. 4 – defensive incompetence
Manning had to overcome a truly inept performance by his own defense. The Broncos had scored just 79 points in their first six games, but they ran roughshod over the Indy defense, racking up 227 rushing yards on 36 carries (6.3 YPA) while scoring 31 points. Denver scored four TDs on drives of 80, 80, 80 and 91 yards.
No. 3 – the production
Denver had held its first six opponents to a cumulative passer rating of 67.0. Manning torched it for a 129.4 passer rating. He completed a near-perfect 32 of 39 passes (82.1%) for 345 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs.
No. 2 – the historic context
The 129.4 passer rating made this Manning's third-best statistical game ever played outdoors against a quality opponent. He posted a 138.8 passer rating at Kansas City in the 2003 playoffs (a 38-31 Indy win), but that Chiefs team had a brutal defense that gave up 110 points in its final four regular-season games. He posted a perfect 158.3 in a non-conference battle against then 6-2 Philly in 2002.
No. 1 – the clutchosity
Staring down the barrel of the best defense in football, in the NFL's most difficult stadium for opponents, Manning drove his team 62 yards in 8 plays in the final 2 minutes to set up the game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
If someone asks why this was Manning's greatest game, the short response is this: Peyton Manning led a highly flawed team into the toughest arena in football and against the best defense in football. He performed near perfectly and led his team to a 34-31 victory. It's far more impressive than the antiseptic 6-TD performances against the likes of the Lions that have highlighted his past.
Now there's just one world left to conquer: Manning has to repeat his October performance in the dead of winter.
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