NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth and Football Night in America analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison spoke about Sunday’s matchup, which will mark quarterback
And while Collinsworth has certainly seen a lion’s share of football during his nearly 25-year broadcasting career, in addition to his eight-year playing career in the NFL, he noted that the Broncos and Colts matchup on Sunday is a truly special occasion.
"This is nothing but magic,” Collinsworth said. “We’re honored to call the game and really looking forward to it.”
Dungy, Manning’s longtime former head coach who won Super Bowl XLI with Manning, remarked that the quarterback might be playing at the highest level of his entire career – although the coach never dreamed that it would have happened with Manning wearing a Broncos uniform.
“I don’t think I would have anticipated this. I never thought I would see him in a different uniform and certainly wouldn’t think he’d be coming back playing maybe the best football of his career – undefeated and putting up such gaudy numbers,” Dungy said. “It’s going to be an emotional night, a fun night and a night where we’re going to see great quarterbacking, I think, on both sides of the field – something I’m really looking forward to watching.”
Manning’s 2,179 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 178 completions and 128.8 quarterback rating this season are all NFL bests. The quarterback has recorded a quarterback rating of 90.0 or better in an NFL-record 18 consecutive games – a sustained level of excellence that Manning has been able to replicate throughout his career, as the quarterback’s 61,666 passing yards and 458 touchdowns rank second in NFL history.
And it’s Manning’s efficiency at throwing the football and reading defenses that Harrison, who played against Manning for years as a safety with the Chargers and Patriots, described as making the quarterback someone “you can’t game plan for.”
“You just kind of hold your breath, try to do a few things right and hopefully you don’t get beat,” Harrison said. “Just to see the type of football he’s playing, like Coach Dungy said, at this stage of his career is absolutely amazing when I put on tape and see the decision making, the quick thought process in which he’s doing things, his impact on how he makes others so good around him, and just his leadership – it’s just truly amazing and I just marvel at it.”
The analysts all weighed in on Manning’s football intellect and leadership, attributes that his former coach said are the strongest qualities in the quarterback’s repertoire.
“I think that’s really his number one asset when you look at it,” Dungy said. “He is so smart, he’s got such a great memory, such great recall. He kind of likes that situation of having to make the decisions and help everybody out. He doesn’t shy away from it.”
Collinsworth added that Manning’s cerebral approach to the game is identified and appreciated by players across the league.
“I think the line that I hear the most when talking about Peyton Manning from the players that we interview is he’s playing chess when most of us are playing checkers,” Collinsworth chuckled. “It’s a pretty good line.”
And while there’s plenty to be said about rigors of preparing to face Manning from the perspective of an opposing player or coach, Collinsworth pointed out that the quarterback even forces him to elevate his game as a commentator.
“I have to say that I studied harder for an Indy game when he was there or a Denver game now, watching Peyton Manning, than I do with any quarterback because I don’t want to look stupid,” Collinsworth said. “He just has a way of anticipating things that makes it really fun to watch.”
Collinsworth also noted that Manning’s contributions – both on and off the field – have made impacts that will be felt for years to come.
“We’ve gotten a chance to meet so many of the guys around the league,” he said. “These are intelligent guys that do the right thing. At the top of the list, or certainly one of the top guys, is Peyton. He gets it on a lot of levels.”
Harrison took that even farther.
“He is – and I know Patriots fans, they get really angry at me when I say this – he is truly the best quarterback that I’ve faced in my career,” Harrison said. “I’ve had the privilege of going against so many great, Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, but Peyton Manning is something special.”
And as Manning readies for his homecoming in Indianapolis, his former coach said the circumstances surrounding the game won’t affect the quarterback’s preparation – but the return will resonate with significance.
“I promise you, this means a lot to him,” Dungy said. “Coming back there, playing in front of those fans, just the whole thing. It’s more than just a game against a faceless opponent. I know him and the way he’s going to prepare – he’s going to try to keep himself in that mode all week, but it’s going to be difficult.”