Peyton Manning should play one more season

Elway on Fox's Departure, Manning's Future
Elway on Fox's Departure, Manning's Future

Peyton Manning hasn't had an overpowering arm for several years. He hasn't had a weak arm either, or anything that resembles a flimsy piece of pasta.

What he's had since his four neck surgeries prior to joining the Denver Broncos is an arm that meets the definition of satisfactory. He can complete deep throws, and do so with precision. He can zip balls through tight windows too, with enough juice to get it past the flailing arms of defenders.

But now? When it mattered most this season he fell below even that adequate standard, and his physical deficiencies were glaring during a divisional-round loss to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. Repeatedly there were receivers open deep and he failed to drive the ball accuracy. It sailed high or bounced low, rarely on target during key moments.

He finished the game with a yards per attempt average of only 4.6. A year ago during the regular season Manning established new single-season records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477). His parts per attempt in 2013? 8.3.

Immediately the inevitable question for which there's no quick or easy answer was asked. Is Peyton Manning done? Should Peyton Manning be done? Well, let's ask Peyton Manning.

"I just can't give that simple answer," he said in his postgame press conference. "I'm processing it. I can't say that."

Then on Monday we were given a reason for his drained arm and body.

Manning had been playing through a torn quad since Week 15, which explains the utter lack of power generated from his lower body. Over those four games he threw only four touchdown passes, and he had a four-interception outing in Week 16. During that stretch he also averaged 257 passing yards per game, far lower than his 300.1 yards over the Broncos' other 13 games.

Adam Schefter's report echoed what CBS' Pete Prisco heard from his sources following the game. Broncos players told him that throughout the previous six weeks in practice Manning was throwing more interceptions than ever before.

Multiple scouts told NFL Network's Albert Breer they saw declining velocity and arm strength Sunday night. He was ailing, and it was painful to watch. The tragedy would be if the image we're left with after a legendary career is of a broken Manning.

It shouldn't end that way.

Players often do expire far too early because of injuries. This is football, after all, a sport that chews apart bodies until there's little choice but to surrender. That should have been Manning's fate already, as few quarterbacks have the passion and determination to still face a pass rush after multiple neck surgeries.

Barring catastrophic events (example: the hit that ended Steve Young's career) the end usually isn't quite this abrupt. Manning has been losing the fight against father time for several years, and gradually his arm is showing signs of fading. But the Manning we watched Sunday was an entirely different quarterback.

With rest the other Manning can return for one more season. The Manning with the sufficiently adequate arm can return, along with the Manning who can complete those deep throws when needed. The Manning who can identify holes in coverage and then still execute can come back, too.

I base that belief partly on his highly restrictive injury to end the season, and on the aforementioned statistical drop off. But mostly, I base it on the years of watching a man who's maniacal about football.

As long as his body is willing and able Manning won't choose to walk away. He'll choose to play football.

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