Peyton Manning wants to come across as a tough guy, someone who's done being pushed around the way the Seattle Seahawks shoved and stomped him in the Super Bowl. He wants everyone to know that he sticks up for his teammates, even if it's his own pass that leads Wes Welker astray — and right into the path of another concussion.
So Manning sheds his vaunted composure as quickly as a Game of Thrones star sheds their clothes and runs up to taunt Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Manning gets in Swearinger's face, screams "Fuck you!" at him, draws the first taunting penalty of his long, multiple act career. But Manning really wants no part of Swearinger, the always-yapping, slightly-insane, fierce Texan.
Manning's shown over and over again throughout his career that he despises physical football. If it was up to Peyton Manning, the NFL would simply be a series of seven-on-seven drills. No tackling allowed.
Swearinger only has one year of NFL action under his belt and he's already driving Peyton Manning batty. That's a skill.
Manning is upset because of Swearinger's layout hit on Welker — the one Manning and the Denver Broncos immediately brand as dirty — sure. But he's also mad because the Texans dare to get physical, dare to show the type of give-no-ground fight he's seldom had to worry about from them over the years.
This is what's so encouraging about Bill O'Brien's third preseason game — the somewhat overblown so-called "dress rehearsal" game. Not the final score — an 18-17 last-minute Texans win. Not the promise rookie quarterback Tom Savage shows in leading that game-winning drive against the Broncos' fourth stringers. Not even the long-awaited bloody return of lifeline linebacker Brian Cushing.
It's the fight that matters most.
Bill O'Brien's Texans put up more fight against Manning and the Broncos in a meaningless preseason game than Gary Kubiak's Texans showed in a late regular season game with an all-time NFL record on the line. And the difference isn't even close.
That's progress. That matters so much more than 18-17 on Aug. 23.
For his part, Swearinger can't help but fight. He's been talking on playing fields since he was a 5-year-old trying to keep up with his older cousins — the ones who would have stomped him if he didn't stick up for himself. You can't remove the bark from this football pit bull.
Swearinger has only one year of NFL action under his belt and he's already driving Peyton Manning batty. That's a skill.
For a Texans franchise that's too often been pushed around, it's a valuable one too.
Manning still outplays the Texans on this summer night in the new Mile High. When he goes to the bench, the Broncos are leading, having ripped through the Texans with offensive precision in the last few minutes of the first half. These Bill O'Brien Texans aren't ready to topple a Super Bowl caliber team yet. But that doesn't mean they won't challenge one.
Before Manning loses it and gets in Swearinger's face, Swearinger spent a week in the mug of the NFL's Poster Man. For three spirited practices at the Broncos' facility, Swearinger never backs down.
Or stops yapping.
He gets on the Broncos' nerves like a baby wailing nonstop on an airplane. There's a lot of Patrick Beverley in Swearinger and like the Houston Rockets' professional annoyer, Swearinger's playing skills are not up to the level of his mouth. Yet. But that doesn't make his trash talking any less of a successful weapon.
Peyton Manning Goes Baby Man
In the end, with Swearinger planted in his psyche, Manning cannot help but lash out. He acts like a self-entitled child who can't believe someone is daring to get in his way. You're not supposed to make Peyton Manning's life difficult. Hey ref, isn't that against NFL rules?
"I didn't like seeing (Welker) come out of the game with a blow to the head," Manning says in remarks broadcast on The NFL Network.
If it was up to Peyton Manning, the NFL would simply be a series of seven-on-seven drills. No tackling allowed.
When Tiger Woods screams the F-Word on the golf course, he's ripped by sports columnists across the country. If D.J. Swearinger was caught doing in it so blatantly, he'd be decried as a punk. When Peyton Manning does it . . . well, he's just being feisty.
Only in this world of sports double standards could D.J. Swearinger get ripped because Peyton Manning lost his cool. Swearinger didn't go over the edge. He played to it. Could he have gone lower on that Welker tackle? Perhaps, but Welker also could have kept his head up rather than dipping it down near impact.
Swearinger just plays his game. Manning's the one who goes bonkers. The pristine quarterback is the one who crosses the line.
Oh, Manning tries to joke about it afterwards. He wants to pretend that it's just another in-control moment. He's Peyton. He knows what he's doing. So he tosses out that garbage about five seconds left in the half being a good time to pick up a 15-yard penalty. And he makes one of those Peyton funnies, cracking that Swearinger shot back 'Thanks, appreciate it. Good luck to you as well,' in the wake of the Manning F-Bomb.
Don't buy any of it. D.J. Swearinger clearly got to Peyton Manning.
It must infuriate Manning that the Texans who completely rolled over for him last December when he came into Houston gunning for the NFL's all-time single season touchdown record are suddenly showing so much fight. He doesn't need this at this point in his career.
What's really bad for Peyton Manning is awfully good for Houston though. That Peyton Manning F-Bomb is sweet music for the Bayou City.
It means there's suddenly fight in the Texans.