ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –In his first season as a Denver Bronco, quarterback Peyton Manning set new franchise records for completions (400), completion percentage (68.6) and passing yards (4,659), to name a few.
Manning's numbers make a good case that the quarterback deserves to be named NFL MVP, which would add to his total of four, already the most in league history. But his play will have to speak for itself, because Manning won't be campaigning for the award.
"I really have not thought about that," Manning said. "It has been such a unique season for me personally, I really feel fortunate to be playing. I really have had an interesting year and a half and so I am proud our team is in the mix. Some of the individual records going on, on teams that are not in the playoffs, I am glad to be in this situation where we have a chance to do something as a team that is special. Anything that comes along the way individually, in my past, I have accepted those on behalf of the teams I have been on. They are individual awards, but in my opinion they have always been team awards. That is kind of how I continue to approach things."
His effort helped Denver reel off 11 consecutive wins to close the season, capturing the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. With 13 wins, the AFC West Champion Broncos achieved a five-game improvement over last season's 8-8 mark, which was also good enough for the division title. But between his individual success, the recent dominance by his team and the testimony from his teammates, Manning doesn't need to talk himself up.
"You have to go with 18 (QB Peyton Manning)," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said when asked who he'd vote for. "My vote's on 18. He took us to another whole level on this team internal-wise. Not just on the offense. Defense, special teams, everybody's attention to detail goes up because you have somebody like that at the helm that wants the ball and that can do stuff when he gets the ball, so it's always good."
Manning's impact on the offense has been obvious. Wide receivers and Demaryius Thomas both enjoyed career years and combined to rank first in the NFL with 23 touchdowns and third with 2,498 receiving yards. Thanks to a fifth-ranked passing offense, Denver finished the season second in scoring offense and posted at least 30 points in 9-of-11 games entering the playoffs. The offense has clicked so well it has pleasantly surprised even Manning himself.
"I would agree that the rapport with the receivers has come probably quicker than I thought," Manning said. "I really didn't know on some of the timing routes, some of maybe the kind of the adjustments and things. You just don't know how those things will come about and because we have worked so hard and simulated things in practice and done extra drills in practice and those guys have stayed healthy this year, too, which has been a big difference."
The positive impact has also been felt throughout the roster, especially in the team's secondary.
"We go against him every day," safety David Bruton said. "That's great because we get to go against checks here and there. We have to be cognizant of where we're aligning, because he'll recognize that. Especially as a secondary, we're going against a top-tier quarterback every day in practice, so it just prepares us to go against top-tier quarterbacks like Tom Brady."