Peyton's issues mental, team's issues physical
By MARQUEL INGRAM
College Contributor Network
Let's just keep it real: the Denver Broncos were hand-delivered an old fashioned, Mississippi butt-whooping at the merciless hands of the now playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals.
During the 37-28 Monday Night Football thrashing -- the score doesn't tell the story of Denver's loss -- the Bengals' rushing attack was able to gain 201 yards, including a Jeremy Hill 85-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
And this was against the second-ranked rush defense in the league entering Monday's Week 16 contest.
Also alarming was how well the Cincinnati special teams unit, anchored by Adam Jones, played, accumulating over 200 yards from kickoff and punt returns.
But the talk of the game was how mightily Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning struggled, throwing four interceptions for the first time since December 2010 -- three came in the last quarter -- while posting a 0.0 QBR in the fourth quarter.
Don't check your eyes, the statistic is correct my friend.
He is now tied with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with six career four-interception games.
The Denver opposition did a stellar job to disguise its pre-snap defensive look, shifting into position just seconds before Manning would snap the ball -- something that's never easy against the five-time MVP.
Manning did also throw two touchdown passes to WR Emmanuel Sanders -- both of which came in the second half -- and ended his streak of throwing for under 300 yards, finishing with 311, and threw 44 passes (the most since the season-changing game against St. Louis).
I even tweeted about the success with which he moved the ball vertically down the field in the third quarter.
everybody who suggested there's something (wrong) with Peyton were clearly mistaken tonight. looks like same old Peyton to me. #DENvsCIN- marquel ingram (@marquel_ingram) December 23, 2014
In addition, Manning completed a few deep passes to the aforementioned Sanders and fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas.
However, the decision-making was at times suspect, flagrantly shocking and unbelievably unexpected, leading to many sports analysts to assiduously question Manning's health once again.
The offense did not and could not, because of the huge deficit, stick to its ground-first mantra it has preached for the previous five games.
Adding to the dilemma was the heavy rain drenching the entire Paul Brown stadium, which prompted many to engage in the "Peyton plays terribly in cold and nasty weather" gab.
As awful as he looked last night at times, it was not due to his health -- again, just look at some of the deep throws Manning completed throughout the night.
If anything, his effort and that of Peyton's team were stymied by the health of other key players like tight end Julius Thomas, left tackle Ryan Clady (offense), linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward (defense).
Instead his struggles last night, and those of the past month, are all mental -- he's rushing throws that don't (most of the time) need to be rushed, he's not reading defenses with his normal regularity, and he's missing throws in general.
While the panic meter should be on the fritz if his struggles are in fact health-related, it should be on ease because it's all in his head.
Manning is the most mentally gifted quarterback of all time, and if there is a passer that can rectify mental breaks, it's the University of Tennessee-alum.
I would be remiss to not point out how the offensive line has struggled as well, which has had a de facto impact on Peyton's recent poor play.
On Monday night, too often the unit failed miserably in pass protection, allowing its all-time great passer to be mauled eight times and sacked twice (I know I wasn't the only person who noticed how often defensive end Carlos Dunlap smoothly blew by Pro-Bowl guard Louis Vasquez en route to a two-sack performance).
As a result, Manning not only is experiencing mental lapses the likes of which we have not seen since his last year as an Indianapolis Colt, but to compound the issue, he now does not trust his offensive line.
We know Peyton will vocally protect his line by shouldering all the blame for the sub-par outings the offensive unit has had, but the line has not produced in recent weeks, especially in pass protection.
He is being burdened so immensely by the ineptitude of his protection that it has trickled down to his play (10 TD's, eight interceptions in his last six games).
Now people are starting to surmise this season as the fall of Peyton F. Manning.
Doesn't all of this sound familiar?
If not, here is a hint: through the first month and change of the season a certain, equally other-worldly quarterback was having his share of problems up in Massachusetts.
His offensive line was emitting a similar stench from its abysmal play, causing him to play uncharacteristically awful.
And yes, like his contemporary, he too had to answer questions pertaining to his health and respond to inquiries about his performance.
Survey says...Tom Brady!
After a 2-2 start, the New England Patriots have now secured the number one seed in the AFC and are the prohibitive favorites to play in Super Bowl 49.
As for the questions about the 37-year-old Patriots quarterback? They have dissipated faster than Trinidad James' career (or Bobby Shmurda's career, whichever you prefer).
While the chances of the Broncos repeating as AFC champs are dwindling by the week, Peyton can improve his play in time to contend.
If history has taught us anything about Tom and 38-year-old Peyton, it's to never count them out.
Summarily dismissing them is the equivalent to betting against the sun rising each day.
No, Manning doesn't possess the same arm he once had, but just a season ago his noodle arm led his team to East Rutherford.
Also, Denver is still far too talented to remain shaky, even with the playoffs two weeks away -- three weeks if (when) the team locks down the two-seed in Week 17 against the lowly Oakland Raiders.
For Peyton, he'd better hope his starting tight end can nurse himself back to full strength.
Anyone else been thinking about how Peyton Manning's "decline" has sharply coincided with Julius Thomas' injury?- MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 23, 2014
I have, and this situation is also similar to that of the Patriots at the beginning of the year when Rob Gronkowski wasn't fully healthy, which resulted in Brady's aforementioned terrible start.
Ultimately for the Broncos, health, more so than adjustments, will dictate how far this team marches through the trenches of the playoffs.
But not the health of Peyton Manning, the health of the rest of his squad.
Marquel Ingram is an aspiring sports writer from Rutgers University. He loves the Colts, Yankees and the Mavericks. Follow him on Twitter: @marquel_ingram