Manning rolls back the years

When Peyton Manning talks about his football mortality, acknowledging his physical shortcomings and scoffing at the notion that he plays as he did in his prime, it all makes perfect sense.

He is 36, coming off four neck surgeries and a lost 2011 season, and he’s struggling to get in sync with new team-mates in a new city as the clock on his career mercilessly ticks away.

Yet while we may have politely nodded in agreement Sunday night as Manning, in a hallway outside the Denver Broncos’ locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, said: “I can’t do the same things I used to do, and I’m learning to adjust,” our head hurts from the twisted logic.

After joining 76,832 fans and a national TV audience in watching Manning toy with the New Orleans Saints in the Broncos’ 34-14 victory, it’s tough to reconcile the decline of a once-mighty quarterback with the magnificent mastery we’re witnessing on a weekly basis. In a virtuoso performance that left Denver (4-3) alone in first place in the AFC West and with a shockingly plausible path to a first-round playoff bye. The old, broken-down gunslinger showed the rest of the football world that he’ll find a way to get by without his fastball.

In this case, getting by could consist of a record-extending fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award and a viable shot at a third Super Bowl appearance.

Does that sound crazy? After Sunday night, it shouldn’t. Manning put on a mistake-free clinic against the Saints’ sorry defence, completing 22 of 30 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, but it’s not as if his effort was an anomaly. This was Manning’s fifth consecutive 300-yard passing game, tying the longest stretch of his career and he’s currently leading the NFL with a 109.0 passer rating.

With all due respect to two-time MVP Tom Brady, reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt or any other candidate you can name, Manning should be considered the MVP favourite as we near the midpoint of the season.

Scarily, the Broncos are starting to look like a complete team at a time when their schedule turns softer than homemade pumpkin soup. Beginning next Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati, Denver play eight of their next nine games against teams that currently have losing records, the lone exception a December 16 road game against the Ravens.

“I can see it being Denver and Houston in the end for the AFC,” said Scott Shanle, the veteran Saints’ linebacker. “Peyton is just unbelievable. This is his offence, and he has total command of it. If you put Colts uniforms on those guys and watched them [Sunday] night, you’d think it was one of his great Indy teams, and that’s scary.”

Meanwhile Peyton’s brother Eli stood on the New York Giants’ sideline in disbelief when it looked as if the Dallas Cowboys had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left.

What was encouraging is what he didn’t see: a replay on the giant videoboard that hangs above the field at Cowboys Stadium, where the Giants still have never lost following a wild 29-24 victory Sunday.

Officials reviewed and overturned Dez Bryant’s apparent 37-yard touchdown catch, ruling his hand hit out of bounds, and the Cowboys couldn’t get into the end zone after the overturned reception.

“I couldn’t quite believe they were able to hit a touchdown in that situation. I kind of kept looking for the replay,” Manning said. “You know the game was not going to be over until that clock hit zero.”

This was the 20th time in Manning’s career that the Giants rallied in the fourth quarter to win. And this comeback came after New York blew an early 23-0 lead. “It speaks about our resilience. We know how to win these games,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “We’ve been in a bunch of them.”

After their sixth win in seven games since a season-opening home loss to Dallas, the Giants (6-2) hurriedly cleared out of Cowboys Stadium trying to get home as quickly as possible with Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the East Coast.

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