The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Selection Committee voted on the finalists of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and if there's one person that's practically guaranteed a spot in the Class of 2021, it's Peyton Manning. We'll have to wait to have that officially confirmed, but until then, let's reflect on some of his finest and most memorable games in a Broncos uniform.
It felt like a bit of an unfair challenge to try to narrow down the list to just five, so at the very end we included some honorable mentions that deserved some kind of placement in this discussion.
Week 6, 2012 season: Broncos 35, Chargers 24
The Broncos were on uneven footing early in Manning's time in Denver. After five games, they had showed flashes of the team they could be, but the Broncos entered Week 6 with a losing record at 2-3. And midway through this game, trailing 24-0 in San Diego, it looked like they were destined to fall to 2-4.
Manning had done his share to add to that deficit with a pick-six, but he would atone for that and more in the second half as Denver stormed back. Manning threw touchdowns on each of Denver's first three possessions to start the second half, including a beautiful go-ahead touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley in the fourth quarter. With a pair of defensive touchdowns to boot, the Broncos completed one of the most thrilling comebacks in recent memory.
And more than that, it served as a strong reminder that even after the neck injury that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season, yes, this was the same ol' Peyton Manning.
"You never can count that guy out," Stokley said. "I've seen it too many times. Everybody in this locker room knows, and we all believe, that when you have him behind the center we can come back from any deficit."
Week 1, 2013 season: Broncos 49, Ravens 27
After a disappointing playoff loss to Baltimore in the playoffs the previous year, Manning and the Broncos rebounded in a major way and proved that they were launching a historic campaign.
With seven touchdown passes, Manning tied an NFL record for the most in a single game. In the process, he picked apart Baltimore's secondary and the entire offense ran the Ravens ragged.
"We're going to push the tempo as much as we can handle," TE Julius Thomas said.
The aggressive start to the season foreshadowed what was to be on display for the rest of the season — the highest-scoring offense in NFL history led by the most prolific passer at his most dominant.
Week 16, 2013 season: Broncos 37, Texans 13
Manning's ability, paired with an aggressive strategy on offense, helped him make history in 2013 and beyond. No record he smashed, though, may be more impressive than the one for passing touchdowns in a single season.
With his fourth touchdown of the day against Houston, a pass to Julius Thomas, he completed his 51st touchdown pass of the season, eclipsing Tom Brady's previous mark. A week later, he added another four to set the bar even higher at 55.
Yet, after such a remarkable accomplishment, Manning could see the writing on the wall for many of his records.
"The way the game is today, none of these offensive records will last," Manning said.
He predicted Brady would break his mark in another year or two and noted that if the NFL expands the regular season for more games, it really wouldn't have a chance.
But seven years later, even though his prediction has held true for many of his previously held career passing records, this one still stands, yet to be touched.
Week 7, 2014 season: Broncos 42, 49ers 17
Midway through the 2014 season, Manning approached the all-time passing touchdown record, then held by Brett Favre with 508. With each passing week, he inched closer and anticipation grew.
Entering the Week 7 vs. San Francisco, Manning had 506. After the first quarter, he was tied with Favre and looking to etch his own name atop the record books. On third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Manning took a shotgun snap, looked to his right and threw a dart to the front right pylon, where Demaryius Thomas made the touchdown snag.
In response to the moment and a historic career, the stadium erupted.
"I'm very humbled and I'm very honored," Manning said after the game. "I certainly think about how grateful I am for all the teammates and coaches that I've played with and played for throughout my career, not only here in Denver — in Indianapolis and all the people that have helped me along the way, but I've always been a fan of quarterbacks, whether it's Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway. I'm very honored and humbled to join a pretty unique club and then when you throw in guys like Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton, guys that were my dad's heroes growing up as well, I can put it in some perspective and I have a great appreciation for it."
Manning's four-touchdown performance made Broncos history in its own right, too. By completing 22-of-26 passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions, Manning set a new franchise record for best single-game passer rating with at least 20 pass attempts.
Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10
If you're compiling a list of the best games of Manning's career, this one probably doesn't rate highly. Against a stout Panthers defense, he completed 13-of-23 passes for 141 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception, and he was sacked five times and lost one fumble.
But on a list of his most memorable games, it's hard to exclude. The Super Bowl win not only capped one of the most storied careers in NFL history but also one of his most trying seasons, as he battled injuries for much of the season before returning in the final game of the regular season to help marshal the Broncos through the postseason to everlasting greatness.
All that would allow Manning to walk away from the game as a winner on the highest stage, leaving us with memories that will last a lifetime.
"This has been a tough, resilient, unselfish bunch of guys," Manning said after the win. "That was evident tonight from this game. I've just been honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I was just thanking them for letting me be a part of the journey."
Flip back through photos of Peyton Manning's Broncos career, which culminated in a victory in Super Bowl 50.
Week 1, 2012 season: Broncos 31, Steelers 19
The Manning Era began with just a taste of what was to come.
In his first game with the team, Manning helped Denver overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and finished with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
In addition to being his first game as a Bronco, it was also his first NFL game in over a year after a neck injury cost him the entire 2011 season. Such a long recovery allowed an element of doubt to creep in for some analysts and spectators during that time, but Manning's two-touchdown performance showed he had plenty of football left to play.
"Knowing the guy, what kind of competitor he is, I never doubted for once that he wouldn't be playing again," Stokley said. "I knew he'd be back."
Week 5, 2013 season: Broncos 51, Cowboys 48
In one of the most entertaining games of Manning's career, he and the Broncos went down to the wire against Tony Romo and the Cowboys in high-powered duel. Manning threw for 414 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, but the most memorable part of the day came when he fooled the entire Cowboys defense (and maybe the whole crowd) on a fake handoff that he then ran in himself on a naked bootleg.
Week 7, 2013 season: Colts 39, Broncos 33
After an emotional exit from Indianapolis in 2012, Manning returned for the first time in 2013 as the undefeated Broncos traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts and their fans gave him a warm welcome with a tribute video played over the Jumbotron, and he in turn waved to the crowd and thanked them for their support. Manning had a strong showing at his old home with three touchdowns and 386 yards, but it wasn't enough for a win.
2013 AFC Championship: Broncos 26, Patriots 16
After a disappointing playoff performance a year before from the Broncos as a whole, Manning helped return the franchise to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 season with a 400-yard, two-touchdown day against longtime foe Tom Brady and his Patriots team.
2015 AFC Championship: Broncos 20, Patriots 18
Manning and the Broncos punched their ticket for a second Super Bowl two years later with another hard-fought win over the Patriots. Manning helped lead the Broncos to an early lead with two touchdowns to Owen Daniels, but Brady mounted a furious second-half comeback attempt that fell just short when a two-point conversion try was intercepted.