Manning overcomes many hurdles in season for ages

With Peyton Manning on the verge of breaking Tom Brady’s

single-season touchdown record, Houston interim coach Wade Phillips

calls this ”just the best year ever of any quarterback.”

The Denver Broncos have needed every one of Manning’s many

exploits to make up for a host of problems.

Before the season even started, the Broncos lost Elvis Dumervil

to the Baltimore Ravens in the infamous fax fiasco that made him a

surprising free agent, Von Miller to a six-game drug suspension,

John Elway’s top two lieutenants to drunken driving arrests and not

one but two centers to medical issues.

In August, Champ Bailey suffered a foot injury that would turn

him into a sideline spectator for most of the year. In September,

Manning’s blindside protector went on injured reserve.

In October, Manning sustained a high ankle sprain that would

force him to miss Wednesday practices on a regular basis for the

first time in his career.

In November, John Fox collapsed on a golf course and needed

open-heart surgery. During his absence, safety Rahim Moore needed

emergency surgery to save his lower left leg, defensive end Derek

Wolfe had a seizure-like episode on the team bus ride to the

airport and run-stuffer Kevin Vickerson’s went on IR with a

dislocated right hip.

This month, captain Wesley Woodyard was benched and slot

receiver Wes Welker was sidelined with his second concussion in

four weeks.

Yet, Manning has had a season for the ages at age 37, just two

years removed from the four neck surgeries that weakened his right

triceps.

”I think it definitely makes it more remarkable for him to

overcome all this adversity,” receiver Bubba Caldwell said. ”But

that’s what leaders do and that’s what champion players do. They

rally up their team behind them and they make sure they play at a

championship level and everybody else follows.”

Manning won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year this

week, he’s the leading vote-getter in Pro Bowl balloting and he’s

the odds-on favorite to win his fifth NFL MVP award.

He has the Broncos (11-3) poised to once again secure home-field

advantage in the AFC playoffs as he seeks that second Super Bowl

ring that eluded him a year ago.

Asked what he’s seen from Manning so far that would be a

priority for his defense on Sunday, Phillips didn’t know where to

start.

”What haven’t you seen?” he asked. ”Guy is going to set every

record that’s ever been in the books as far as touchdown passes,

yards, four-touchdown games, it goes on and on.”

Manning is four touchdown passes shy of breaking Brady’s record

of 50 TDs set in 2007. With a career-high 4,811 yards passing,

Manning is 666 yards from surpassing Drew Brees’ single-season

record set in 2011.

Asked Wednesday whether he felt he deserved another MVP honor,

Manning laughed off the question, then went down his list of

concerns: Welker’s concussion, J.J. Watt’s disruption, an

unfamiliar, unpredictable opponent in the Texans (2-12).

”That is plenty on my plate to focus on,” Manning said. ”I

know that’s probably not the answer that you’re looking for, but

that is all my focus is on and that’s the way it has to be.”

That single-minded attention is what’s helped him overcome so

many hurdles in 2013, including his own health issues.

He’s been dealing with a high ankle sprain for two months, one

that’s forced him to sit out one day a week, usually Wednesdays, to

get treatment and rest.

On one of those, he spent practice in the training room soaking

his right ankle in a hot tub while watching video of the Tennessee

Titans on his iPad. He had his helmet with him so he could hear

offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s calls to backup QB Brock

Osweiler. But when he couldn’t quite make out what was being said,

he slipped the helmet on and a trainer snapped a photo.

It was shown on the CBS broadcast of the Titans-Broncos game

earlier this month and went viral, the latest example of the

quintessential quarterback with the notorious work ethic outworking

and outsmarting his opponents.

Shown the photo after a recent practice, tight end Jacob Tamme

said: ”That’s next-level type stuff.”

Which is a good way to describe Manning’s entire season.

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