NFL

It’s Time For Peyton Manning To Walk Away

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Along with the dozens of great memories from our sports heroes comes the few that you’d like to permanently erase from your mind.

Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards blue jersey, driving to the basket in slow motion while getting his shot blocked.  For the older folks, Willie Mays patrolling stumbling around in center field for the New York Mets, then being unable to catch up to what would be considered batting practice fastballs today.

Watching Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs 29-13 demolition of the Denver Broncos, we had another one of those moments as Peyton Manning was physically unable to play the quarterback position to any degree of competency.

Manning completed just five of his 20 passes, for 35 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.  His quarterback rating was 0.0, but you didn’t need to look at the stats to know that he was simply done.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak mercifully benched Manning in the third quarter while the team was down 22-0 to an Alex Smith led Chiefs squad, who at one point missed on nine consecutive throws.

Kubiak tried to explain away Manning’s horrific performance with the reasoning of injuries.

“And I probably should have right there said, you know, no, he’s not going to go this week,” Kubiak explained. “But he’s a competitor, he wanted to play.”

“I thought I felt good enough to play,” Manning said after his worst performance as a pro.

“Maybe it was a false feeling or a wrong feeling.”

Off the football field, Manning is a complete class act.  He isn’t just a nice guy when the cameras are on him, he’s a great guy all the time.  A story I like to tell stems from when I covered the Pro Bowl in 2009 in Hawaii.  Manning was great to the fans, the younger players and everyone who demanded his time all week when he very easily could’ve ducked away and enjoyed his week in paradise.  Even after the game in the locker room, he went up to every one of the guys who were in charge of taping the players ankles, and shook their hands, asked them their name and chatted with them for a few minutes.  There were no cameras around, and it was something that he didn’t need to do, but those guys now have stories to tell their grandkids.  It’s a great representation of his true character.

Manning is a competitor, and his competitive drive has helped him to achieve one of the most storied careers in NFL history.  That same competitive drive is keeping him from accepting the obvious; that’s he’s declined so significantly that the Broncos can’t trot him out on the field if they have any aspirations to advance in the postseason.

The Broncos head coach is certainly in an awkward situation.  Permanently benching one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks is difficult, no matter what the team’s record is.  It’s infinitely tougher when Denver fans peruse the standings and see their team in first place with a 7-2 record, and likely locked in to a No. 3 seed in the AFC.

How do you potentially abandon a division title run with a home playoff game upcoming for…Brock Osweiler, who hasn’t exactly looked like a world-beater in his limited preseason and regular season reps?

That’s probably more of a question for personnel czar and Mile High legend John Elway, but the Hall of Famer had the guts to pull the band-aid on former head coach John Fox, who won four consecutive AFC West titles because he didn’t like the direction that the team was going.

The Broncos are in a unique situation to make this particular switch.  Although he hasn’t won a Super Bowl in Denver, Manning is still a league-wide legend.  That carries a lot of weight.

Not as much weight as Elway carries in Denver, as he led the team to a pair of Super Bowl titles and has architected the roster in his own vision, which is one of the better ones in football.

Elway has the inherent trust of the Denver fan base, and he knows that once again pulling the proverbial Manning “band-aid” is something he needs to do.

Make no mistake, Manning is not going to make it easy by gracefully walking away.  He’s too much of a competitor and has too much pride and confidence, even if it’s unfounded right now.

One of the 14-time Pro Bowler’s biggest supporters, Tony Dungy, who mainly because of Manning is a Hall of Fame candidate, even believes that the Broncos need to make a change.

“I’d have to play Brock Osweiler, based on what I saw today,” Manning’s former head coach and long-time cheerleader Tony Dungy said on NBC’s Football Night in America.  “I don’t know if it’s foot, shoulder, ribs or anything they’re talking about but that’s not the Peyton Manning I’m used to seeing.  I would play Brock.”

Manning’s career has finally come full circle.  He dragged mediocre Indianapolis Colts’ rosters to division titles and playoff berths seemingly every year.  So much so, that when he missed the 2011 season due to his neck injury, the team finished 2-14 without him.

Now the Broncos are likely to win the AFC West, completely in spite of how the quarterback is playing.  Wade Phillips’ great defense is dragging the quarterback to wins, as he hangs on and compiles stats along the way.

What should have been a great moment as Manning passed Brett Favre for the NFL’s all-time passing yardage lead, turned into merely a footnote in the worst game of his career.

If Manning were to walk away, nobody would accuse him of “quitting on his team.”  It would actually become the most unselfish act of his amazing career.

Reality tells us that isn’t in his DNA and this is going to have to be Elway’s call.

Father time’s record remains perfect and speaking for NFL fans everywhere, please spare us of another performance like Sunday’s to preserve our memories of the great Peyton Manning.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.