A Historic Season

Peyton Manning surprises with his post-record honesty: Broncos QB brings jokes with the TDs

Peyton Manning surprises with his post-record honesty: QB brings jokes

Peyton Manning thumbs up Texans
Peyton Manning took the time to appreciate his NFL touchdown record. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Broncos Texans record TD
Peyton Manning's record breaking touchdown pass was a pretty one, which left Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson helpless. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Peyton Manning glove Texans
Peyton Manning wore a glove on his throwing hand as he carved up the Houston Texans defense in the fourth quarter. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Peyton Manning thumbs up Texans
Broncos Texans record TD
Peyton Manning glove Texans

For 16 years Peyton Manning has displayed such multifaceted mastery of offenses on the field that his ability to command a postgame press conference with startling aplomb can sometimes surprise. But on Sunday, with the NFL single-season record for touchdown passes once again in his possession, Manning was inspirationally reflective, deferential and humorous.

Sometimes it is easy to misremember how adroitly Manning can manage the media, how he can present just enough of his personality to inspire awe from the podium, too. 

Instead of allocating time for his coronation, Manning diverted an ample amount of the credit for his tossing an NFL-record 51 touchdowns this season to his coaches, his teammates and the medical personnel responsible for getting him back on the field following a series of neck surgeries that threatened to derail his career. In a vacuum one might lose sight of just how remarkable this road to resumed brilliance has been for Manning, particularly given the laundry list of statistical benchmarks he is poised to eclipse as a 37-year-old quarterback. But when Peyton Manning began to reflect on how far he had come physically, the context of his accomplishment resonated.

Sunday wasn't about his greatness. It was partially about his perseverance.

 Manning made it seem as though the records he owns should be etched in pencil. The micro view is more favorable. 

"I had no real expectations because I couldn't really get any doctor or anyone to give me some sort of gauge or timetable for strength recovery," Manning says when asked if he ever anticipated reaching such prolific statistical heights after missing the 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries. "You can believe I asked every question I possibly could, and with the injury I was dealing with, there was major unpredictability.

"So a lot of them said, 'Maybe you'll come back to this level and maybe not,' so there was definitely some wait and see and, like I said, I'm grateful for people that helped me along the way and I've certainly put some time and work into it."

As an isolated set of circumstances, Manning passing for 5,211 yards and 51 touchdowns with one game remaining in the regular season stands as extraordinary. Both numbers represent career standards, a stunning revelation considering the steady crawl away from their prime every quarterback experiences at his age.

In the Broncos' 37-13 victory over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, Manning passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns, production that felt routine because it was. This season, his second with Denver, Manning is averaging 347.4 yards and 3.4 touchdowns per game.

Peyton Manning's Journey

His 113.0 passer rating is the second-best mark of his career, trailing only the 121.1 rating his posted when he tossed a then-record 49 touchdowns in 2004. 

That was nine years ago, a lifetime in professional sports chronology. Manning won the MVP that season, and did so twice more in 2008 and '09. In 2010 he passed for a career-high 4,700 yards in his 14th season with the Indianapolis Colts. His brilliance and dedication seemingly made him impervious to decline. Only catastrophic injury could stall Manning at that juncture.

Three neck surgeries later and Manning was done in Indianapolis. The Broncos took a flyer on Manning, confident that he could reclaim his extraordinary form, and Manning delivered. He led Denver to 13 regular-season victories and the AFC West title last season, passed for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, and posted a 105.8 passer rating through wobbly balls and muffled mockery.

 Sunday wasn't about his greatness. It was partially about his perseverance. 

He laughed off the ridicule of his diminished arm strength while leading Denver to the postseason. His career revival was snuffed by a demoralizing loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

It is difficult to wrap one's mind around how wonderfully Manning has performed this season. The wobbly passes haven't been completely eliminated from his arsenal, but the sparkling results are irrefutable. The Broncos clinched a third consecutive division crown on Sunday and need a win in their season finale to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Should Manning pass for 266 yards against the Oakland Raiders next weekend, he will eclipse Drew Brees' single-season mark of 5,476 yards set in 2011 with the New Orleans Saints. Additional touchdown passes would add distance between Manning and future challenges to his record, something Manning himself deemed inevitable given the direction of the game. Manning acknowledged on Sunday the record-shattering year Dan Marino enjoyed with the Miami Dolphins in 1984 when he passed for an unthinkable 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns.

On Sunday, Manning passed Marino on the single-season passing yards list as Brees and Tom Brady did two seasons ago. Manning and Brady have both bypassed the 48 touchdowns Marino tossed 29 years ago, with Manning announcing Brady as a legitimate threat to make another run at 50 touchdowns next season or in 2015.

With the league increasingly slanting its rules toward favoring offenses and punishing defenses at every turn, Manning made it seem as though the records he owns should be etched in pencil. The micro view is more favorable.

 "It's pretty remarkable and he deserves everything he gets." 

"You know, he won Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year," Broncos coach John Fox says. "When you look at the company he's in, you look at that trophy and talking with the Sports Illustrated people, what a remarkable accomplishment it has been just the two years he has been here. I thought he was very worthy of all those super awards a year ago, and then follow it up with a season he has had this season, it's pretty remarkable and he deserves everything he gets."

What Manning made clear was that what he gets is a byproduct of the investment others made in his return to prominence. When he transitioned from taking good-natured jabs at Broncos tight end Julius Thomas for being oblivious to making the record-breaking reception to explaining the significance of this moment coming during the rebirth of his career, Manning covered the broad scope of his remarkable journey. That, at 37, a second Super Bowl titles remains a viable goal reflects the commitment Manning showcased to reach this amazing statistical peak.

That Manning has recovered and is thriving following an injury that left him debilitated and staring into the abyss of retirement offers an even more extraordinary tale of irrepressible spirit. 

"I think it's well documented that this is the second chapter of my career and I didn't know what to expect off that injury and new team, new players and new physical state after an injury," Manning says. "So I had no idea what to expect and I've put a lot of time and a lot of hard work into it, but I've received a lot of help along the way from coaches and trainers and strength coaches and teammates.

"So I'm very grateful. When something like this happens, it just reminds me even more of how grateful and thankful I am for the people that have helped me during this second chapter."