NFL

Anything less than a title is a failure

Peyton Manning is introduced as the Broncos' new quarterback
Peyton Manning is introduced as the Broncos' new quarterback
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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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By his own admission, the state of Peyton Manning’s recovery remains unknown.


The Broncos’ eventual roster of complementary players — and let’s be serious, that’s what they’ll be — won’t be settled for some time.

Still, the standards by which to judge Manning’s inaugural season in Denver couldn’t be more clear.

There is only outcome that qualifies as a success. That would be winning a Super Bowl.

Just getting there is a more ambiguous prospect. After all, if you can win a playoff game with Tim Tebow, you should win a couple more with Manning, no?

Conversely, anything less than that, anything that ends before Feb. 3 in the Louisiana Superdome, should be declared a failure.

These may be unforgiving standards, but they’re not mine. Rather, they’re endorsed by the Broncos’ high command and their new quarterback. They didn’t acquire a soon-to-be-36-year-old quarterback coming off his fourth neck surgery to get better. They got him to win a Super Bowl now. That was the explicitly stated goal of owner Pat Bowlen, team president John Elway and, yes, Manning himself.

“I’m looking forward to meeting my new teammates and doing everything I can to help this franchise win another Super Bowl,” he said.

Another Super Bowl. That’s why 18 — the number of the first Broncos quarterback, Frank Tripucka — was quickly unretired. That’s why Tim Tebow — protagonist in the Broncos’ glorious, thrilling and entirely unexpected 2011 season — has been all but officially dumped.

That’s not to cast Manning as a villain, however. Actually, I admire the guy more now than when the day began.

In a world where everyone seeks to hedge their bets (yes, LeBron James is exhibit A), Peyton Manning dares to be all in. There is something hopelessly exclusive about his newfound partnership with Elway. Theirs is aristocracy of talent. But it now seems that Manning is both the more cerebral and the more audacious.

Elway spoke about changing his playing style to win a Super Bowl late in his career. Manning? I don’t care what he says. He’s conceding nothing, not to time, not to injury.

Perhaps you, too, heard him in a lie Tuesday. “All I want,” he said, “is to be a part of it . . . I am not going to be the offensive coordinator. I am not here to be involved in personnel decisions.”

C’mon. He’s Peyton Manning. Elway and John Fox will divine his feelings on personnel issues, believe me. As for the offense, Denver will be like Indianapolis. You don’t pay this guy a salary of almost $20 million to not run your offense. If he wasn’t going to run the offense, he would’ve gone to San Francisco, where there is considerably more Super Bowl caliber talent.

But again, Manning is betting on himself. “I’ve always believed that it’s up to me,” he said. “It’s up to me and the people around me to make this the right decision. It will be speculated on and debated for months to come . . .”

Either way, he added, “I accept great responsibility.”

Manning has a couple of promising young receivers, but not much else. Still, as the past informs the present, it’s worth reminding you what Manning has done without an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. Receivers have evolved into preposterously proportioned athletic specimens. But Manning never had a Megatron or a Randy Moss. He never needed one.

His typical pass-catcher only went about six feet. He didn’t have to be a burner. But he had to be smart, and he had to run precise routes. He had to run Manning’s routes.

Consider the best of them, Marvin Harrison. He was in the league four years before he made his first Pro Bowl — a season that, not coincidentally, happened to be Manning’s rookie year. Harrison went from 59 catches in 1998 to 115 in ’99.

Consider the 2010 season. With Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark injured, Manning transformed a sixth rounder named Pierre Garcon and reserve tight end Jacob Tamme. Garcon caught 20 more balls than he had the previous season. Tamme went from three receptions to 67. This past season, with Manning out, he had 19.

In other words, the Broncos offense should be fine with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

Can they win a title?

Apparently Peyton Manning thinks so. Either way, it’s on him, Super Bowl or bust.

Tagged: Broncos, Colts, Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow

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