When Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season because of a serious neck injury, it was widely speculated that the medical issue would put an end to the career of the superstar quarterback.
Now, after an incredibly successful three years serving up a helping of “Not So Fast, Skeptics”, Manning is hearing “The End Is Near” talk again.
This time it is not just an injury that will sideline him tomorrow.
The 39-year-old Denver Broncos leader has been having a disappointing season throwing the football.
Officially, Manning will not play against the Chicago Bears because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. It is a painful tear in the tissue connecting the heel with the toes.
Unofficially, the five-time Most Valuable Player has been benched after suffering the worst game of his career last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Manning completed only five of 20 passes and threw four interceptions. His team were trailing 22-0 in the third quarter when back-up Brock Osweiler was sent in. Osweiler eventually put 13 points on the scoreboard in the loss.
Overall, Manning is among the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the league, throwing nine touchdown passes along with 17 interceptions. Just two years ago, Manning tossed a record 55 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions in an MVP season that led to the Super Bowl.
His decline is akin to that of a bird being shot out of the sky.
“That’s a little bit bigger picture than what I’m dealing with right now. I’m focused on the small picture of trying to get healthy,” Manning said last week when asked if age had finally caught up to him.
Oddly, the Broncos are still in prime post-season position, with a 7-2 record, thanks to their league-best defence.
Osweiler, 25, will get his first career start. He is more mobile than Manning, allowing him to roll-out and find receivers in scrambling situations.
His arm is stronger than Manning’s as well, partly because the veteran also is suffering from sore ribs – the result of the 15 sacks he has taken this season.
What Osweiler does not have is Manning’s skill recognising defences. When coach Gary Kubiak excused Manning from practices and meetings this week to concentrate on rehabilitating his injuries, Manning’s absence was criticised.
Should not the 18-year veteran be helping the first-time starter?
Manning defended himself by noting that everyone from multiple coaches to friends and family would be offering a cacophony of advice to which he was not going to add.
“I told [Osweiler] I’m here for him as a resource if he needs me, but I’m not going to be one of those extra voices in his ear,” Manning said.
In any event, it is a novel experience for the Broncos, who will have a new quarterback starting for the first time in three-and-a-half years, and are being asked about the end of Manning’s career.
“I’ve pondered it a little bit,” linebacker Brandon Marshall told the Associated Press. “But we’ve got a season to finish.”
Ultimately, whether Manning returns or not may depend on Osweiler’s effectiveness.
“[Osweiler] looks really good,” Marshall said after a recent practice session. “Everybody is excited to have him out there.”
In the meantime, another Manning comeback tale is on hold.
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