Just moments after Monday Night’s exhilarating-ish football game between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons wrapped up, I couldn’t help but snicker at Peyton Manning’s dismal performance against a defense that last season was definitely not elite against the passing game. After Manning threw three interceptions before his first touchdown, I couldn’t help but ponder to myself, “Has the NFL’s poster child for the immobile pocket-passing precision quarterback finally met his maker?”
I didn’t want to jump to such a conclusion, and instead took a step back to reflect on why such a traditionally elite football player performed so terribly. Is he still rusty? Did he just have an off night? Did the Falcons cheat? Is this another Bill Belichick-esque Spygate scandal waiting to happen? I was totally stumped, and refused to accept that Peyton Manning could no longer be elite (in the regular season at least). I then reached an epiphany; a Jay-Z-esque “Moment of Clarity” (check out The Black Album). The reason why Peyton Manning didn’t play very well at all was right under my nose the whole time; it’s because he plays for the Denver-freakin-Broncos.
I then started to try and figure out why Peyton signed with Denver, especially when he had Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers eagerly courting him for a chance at being the next big name to migrate to the Bay Area. Manning, a quarterback heralded for his intelligence, chose to play for a team that got crushed in the AFC Divisional round over a team that, still almost totally intact, was barely edged out of a trip to the Super Bowl. After careful analysis, my findings will leave you questioning Peyton’s gut instincts.
My initial thoughts were statistical, almost objective in nature. If I were a quarterback, what would I be seeking in a team to sign with? I would definitely want a good backfield. I would want a running game that would allow me to throw off of it. I would also want tight ends and receivers who can and will run good routes, and catch the ball.
I was somewhat dumbfounded at the fact that Peyton passed up on a team that had just added Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs to a roster of skilled players that already included Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore in favor of a team whose receiving corps is a veritable who’s who of players you wouldn’t be able to name off the top of your head. Let’s face it; with the group of receivers Peyton has, Happy Dave from Oakies and I might as well suit up and run routes for him. Of course, the second Patrick Willis takes my head off I might be forced into early retirement. Also, let’s face it, would you rather play for Jim Harbaugh or John Fox? His decision doesn’t seem logical.
Then I moved from the tangible things to the intangibles because sometimes the difference isn’t how far you can throw the ball, but how badly you want to throw that ball successfully. If you were a player who just sat out an entire season, would you rather step into a situation in which it’s Super Bowl or bust, or a situation in which you’re not expected to immediately enjoy tremendous success?
If you’re Peyton Manning, and you’re making your NFL comeback, you know you’d want to do so under less pressure if possible. I mean let’s face it; this is Peyton’s rehab season and no one is expecting him to win a Super Bowl. If you are, take a shot of pessimism and think logically.
Entering this season, if there was one place in the entire 49ers organization in which you could place a question mark, it would have to be at the quarterback position. Alex Smith was efficient last season, but efficient doesn’t win you Super Bowls. If Peyton signed with San Francisco, the team would seemingly be complete and it honestly would be Super Bowl or bust. The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, have too many questions marks to count. From their head coach down to their skill players and even their offensive line, not to mention some of their defensive positions, expectations realistically aren’t high for Denver. Playing in Denver is probably a less stressful environment for a player who is merely trying to get back in the swing of playing week after week.
Peyton Manning is a Denver Bronco for the opposite reason of why LeBron James is on the Miami Heat. LeBron wanted to go to a place where winning would be easier. Peyton is in a place where winning is going to be harder, because he’s not sure how effective he can be yet. In the end though, if he had signed with San Francisco, he would have been in the position to both win and have teammates he could count on and depend on, as well as a coach who is a football genius.
The question remains: did Peyton Manning choose not to sign with the 49ers because he didn’t want to make it easier for himself, or because the pressure of having to win immediately was too great for him? I’m a bit of a cynic, so I’m looking at this glass like it’s half-empty.