The 2013 season was a fairy tale for Peyton Manning, that is, right up until he ran into the teeth of the wood chipper that was the Seattle Seahawks defense in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Manning’s night was destined for disappointment from the first snap of the game with Manny Ramirez firing the ball wayward as Manning moved to make an adjustment at the line, fumbling the ball away and setting the tone for a miserable encounter. The way that game went, however, shouldn’t overshadow the season that we saw from one of the game’s greatest passers up to that point.
If the season had not ended the way it did we would be talking about unquestionably the greatest season ever from a quarterback. Even with that crushing end there is a pretty good case to be made that it was exactly that.
Manning sat atop the PFF quarterback grading all year, a significant distance clear of the next best passer – Drew Brees. He smashed the single-season touchdown record with 55 passing scores and the league was so focused on that chase that most people missed entirely the fact he put the single-season passing yardage figure even further past the 5,000 barrier, once seen as unbreakable.
Despite those 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns Manning threw just ten interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 115.1 as he executed a master class in how to lead an offense. The Denver Broncos boasted an all-time great unit on offense, scoring a record number of points in the season and managing to get four different receivers into the end zone ten or more times.
To make things even more ridiculous, Manning did all this at the age of 37 — drawing on his years of experience to operate at the peak of his craft at an age when most quarterbacks are breaking down and bowing out.
Best Game: Week 14 vs. Tennessee (+7.5)
Alterraun Verner, the Tennessee corner (at the time) allowed 100+ yards in a game just once in 2013. Want to guess which game?
It was also the only game in which he allowed more than five receptions and one of just two in which he was responsible for giving up a receiving touchdown. In all, Manning lit Verner up for a passer rating of 127.1 throwing into his coverage. In comparison the rest of the league could only post a rating of 44.3 targeting him last season.
Manning led Denver to a 51 point haul on offense, passing for four scores, no interceptions and almost 400 yards as he methodically picked apart a capable defense as if they weren’t even there. This was the Manning master class in full session, and quarterback play doesn’t get a whole lot better.
Take a look at this throw as an example of the kind of play he was making. Nobody will confuse Manning’s arm for a howitzer anymore, but he read this play perfectly and led his receiver to the ball between a pair of defenders for a touchdown.
Key Stat: All-time best 55 passing touchdowns
Manning scored at a prolific rate last season. He not only broke the single-season passing mark, but the Broncos broke the single-season team mark as well. This may well have been the best offense we have ever seen in the NFL and it was largely down to Manning pulling the strings. At this stage in his career Manning’s arm is adequate at best, his athleticism is minimal, and when he does take a hit it is starting to leave a lasting mark.
If he was a prospect coming into the league his physical tools would be derided, but his mental faculties are off the charts. He keeps the ball in his hands less than just about any other quarterback, averaging less time to throw than anyone else in football in 2013, and has the ability to paper over cracks in his pass protection.
It is no coincidence that Manning’s arrival corresponds to a jump in grade for his offensive linemen, because he has the ability to sense when they are in trouble and get rid of the football before that ever becomes pressure.
Manning’s season ended in defeat in the Super Bowl, but that shouldn’t take away from his season or add to the myth that he can’t get it done on the biggest stage. The bottom line is that the Seahawks were just tailored perfectly to derail that Denver offense, and nothing Manning could do would change that.
Manning rightfully earned his spot at No. 3 in the PFF Top 101.
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