Sunday Wrap: Manning’s reaction, Harvin’s trade — is either surprising?
It was so Peyton, this record-breaking night, with the way Manning was his typical self on the sideline, looking at photos and correcting mistakes even after monumental moments, peering over the shoulder of his offensive coordinator at the play sheet after he’d been pulled from a game that had long been decided, the way he fell to the ground so awkwardly one play before the record-breaker and of course the way his teammates celebrated by playing keep-away from him.
That last part being what seemed to be a joke on him but was actually a prank on the millions watching the game.
It was all so Peyton.
"He actually planned that himself," Demaryius Thomas, who caught Manning’s 509th career touchdown that moved Manning past Brett Favre for the all-time lead, said of his QB after the Denver Broncos’ 42-17 rout of the San Francisco 49ers was over Sunday night. "He came to me Thursday or Friday and was like, ‘If anybody scores 509, this is what we should do.’"
There was something about Manning’s reactions, the way he sold how he was actually trying to grab that elusive football that made it seem like he was playing along. But he’s a good improv actor, so there was always the chance he realized the prank was on him and quickly played along.
Yeah, sure. Like anything that Manning does wouldn’t have been scripted.
"We got everybody in on Friday and practiced it," Thomas said to laughs from the assembled media. "He’s a funny guy, an exciting guy, and he loves to have fun. That’s the main thing, he’s having fun."
Throwing 509 touchdowns — actually, make that 510 because Manning added one more early in the third quarter to give him four on the evening — must be fun. And the whole sequence leading up to the touchdown and beyond was surely enjoyable for Manning.
After what he’s been through, and how hard he’s worked, why not enjoy it?
"I’ve discussed that with some family and friends recently, that I certainly didn’t think this would even be a possibility a couple of years ago, so I’m very grateful to the Broncos for welcoming me to their organization and for helping me during my career here," said Manning, who now has 111 touchdowns with his second team to go with the 399 he had with the Indianapolis Colts. "And it has been a wonderful 2-1/2 years here."
It was a wonderfully, fittingly goofy three plays that led up to the record-breaking pass on Sunday night.
Following a pass interference penalty on 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock in the end zone, the Broncos had the ball first-and-goal at the San Francisco 1-yard line. Run it? Yeah, sure. The Niners were stacked up to defend the run and nobody was standing in the way of history.
On first down, Manning threw incomplete for Julius Thomas. (Note: After the game, record and blowout victory in hand, Manning was nonetheless still ticked about what he termed a "bad throw" after a "good route" by Thomas.)
Second down. Another called pass, though it never happened because Manning got his feet tangled with left guard Orlando Franklin. As he squirmed on the ground, there was a moment when it seemed he was going to try breaking the record from the seat of his pants. Manning believed he had Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders on the back side and he badly wanted to get the ball off. But he wisely decided to hold the ball and take the sack.
"I don’t know what you call that play," Manning said, adding in self-deprecating fashion: "A missed standing-up."
Third down. Ball on the 8-yard line with 3:15 left in the half and the Broncos up 14. History one good throw away.
On the sideline, the defensive players were taking bets on who would catch the record-breaker. The smart money was on Julius Thomas, and even Demaryius Thomas might have made that bet as well because he thought his chances were lost with Manning’s stumble. But he realized he was lined up to the short side of the field, where he’d have a 1-on-1 matchup with Brock, and he suddenly liked his chances.
Manning (22 for 26, 318 yards, those four touchdowns and zero interceptions) delivered the ball to the front corner of the end zone, where only his guy could make a play on it. Demaryius Thomas, who caught the seventh of Manning’s touchdowns to tie the single-game record in the opener here last year, reached out, grabbed the ball, planted his left foot and dragged his right foot.
The ball he held in his hands, which was then passed around and over Manning during that scripted keep-away game, would soon be on its way to Canton.
"It’s a little bit of a blur there. You kind of get whacked in the head by a lot of people, so you try to process some things," Manning said. "I was glad it was here at home, here in Denver in front of our home stadium. And the fact we won the game certainly allows you to celebrate with our teammates. That’s what I told the team inside."
Those teammates celebrated just the way Manning wanted them to. It was actually the second time Wes Welker had played keep-away with Manning on Sunday night, as Welker tried to hide the ball he caught for No. 508. He was successful — at least for now. Like he often does, Manning just might wind up winning the prank war.
"I may come to work (Monday)," Welker said, "and find out it’s not my ball anymore."
HARVIN JUST NOT A FIT FOR SEAHAWKS CULTURE
I had a good exchange with a Twitter follower the other day who wanted to know why the stories about Percy Harvin fighting teammates and causing distractions were coming out now to justify the Seattle Seahawks’ trading him, yet they weren’t reasons to bench him when they happened.
It’s a good point, and without making excuses for Seattle, one has to remember a lot of factors were at play.
For one, the Seahawks realized Harvin’s been fragile mentally in the past. They acquired him because the Minnesota Vikings were tired of his act, so it’s not surprising Seattle wanted to handle things as quietly as they could behind the scenes.
Secondly, the team truly believed Harvin would refocus once he got himself back on the field. Last year, when he missed the majority of the season following hip surgery, there was concern he would check out mentally for good. This year, even after he fought Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and threw a fit when he believed Pete Carroll was playing favorites by allowing Earl Thomas to return punts, Harvin still was showing signs of being worth the off-field headaches. Before the opener, a source said the Seahawks believed Harvin was "locked in," and when he proved to be a huge threat to the Green Bay Packers that night, it appeared the Seahawks’ patience had paid off.
But when Harvin relapsed and started taking himself out of games, the Seahawks realized it was time to admit their mistake and move on. That was a lot of pride to swallow, for sure, and their giving up a first-round pick in the deal with the Vikings was another reason why Harvin wasn’t disciplined for his actions.
However, let’s not forget how Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have fostered a competitive environment in recent years. They want their guys on edge all of the time. They desire players who have a bit of a mean streak. Competition and energy every day and every week is what they’re all about.
Sometimes all of that boils over, which is why Harvin’s swinging at teammates is shocking to those who are hearing about it now but not as shocking to those who know what it’s like at the Seahawks’ facility. Whether it’s been Harvin, Baldwin (they don’t call him "Angry Doug" for nothing), Marshawn Lynch or former Seahawks Tate and Brandon Browner (whom sources say would often shoot a look at a teammate to announce he was angry and about to pop), sources say there has been plenty of in-fighting, though not always with the players’ hands.
The Seahawks won a Super Bowl on the strength of a competitive, edgy culture that was personified in Richard Sherman’s nonstop swagger. They’re now experiencing the downside of all that adrenaline they’ve pumped into their locker room. They have to decide if it’s sustainable and if it was merely a matter of Harvin being the wrong fit for that environment. If it’s the latter, they can recover from this and two straight losses.
FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS
1. It was clear all the way back in training camp, with the way they were lining up in three- and four-wide receiver sets, the 49ers were intent on opening up their offense this season. They have put a lot of trust in Colin Kaepernick and he did drop some perfect passes on his receivers’ hands that were dropped on Sunday night (Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and even Anquan Boldin let key grabs slip out of their hands). Still, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher for why they’re trying to sling it as much as they have at times, especially since they added another capable back in rookie Carlos Hyde. The Niners’ 18 rushing attempts on Sunday were the second-fewest in a game under Jim Harbaugh. The injuries on the offensive line (and center Daniel Kilgore is likely done for the season after breaking his ankle) won’t help the running game, but this team has to find its identity once again and not put so much on Kaepernick’s shoulders.
2. Let the Kirk Cousins situation be yet another lesson about how a backup quarterback playing in spurts does not tell the whole picture of what he could do as a full-time starter. Cousins looked sensational at times when he filled in for Robert Griffin in 2012 and last year. But he’s now been benched for Colt McCoy after turning the ball over 11 times to his 10 touchdowns. There have been mistakes made before when teams make a big move for a guy who looked good in limited time (Matt Flynn, anyone?), and Cousins was nearly one of them. The Cleveland Browns made a push for him this offseason and are probably glad right now the Redskins didn’t want to give him up.
3. The play that revealed just how dangerous the Dallas Cowboys’ offense is right now was a second-and-nine with 2:28 to play in their game against the New York Giants on Sunday. The Giants were down a touchdown and were trying to get the ball back. Tony Romo did a great job of holding the play-action fake to DeMarco Murray for an extra beat. Giants safety Quintin Demps was frozen, not knowing whether to commit to support the run or help cornerback Prince Amukamara with his coverage on Dez Bryant. Romo completely neutralized Demps and delivered a perfect pass to Bryant, who made a great catch. Amukamara actually played the route pretty well but never had a chance to defend it. The Cowboys’ trio of playmakers is playing stellar football behind an offensive line that’s really clicking. Incredible how much nearly everyone underestimated this team.
4. The NFL Players Association wasn’t thrilled with jointly appointed appeals officer Ted Cottrell upholding half of Kaepernick’s fine for general obscene language. (Neither was Kaepernick, as his run of tweets and retweets proved.) The NFLPA doesn’t have any recourse to challenge the fine further, though expect the union to raise a stink about it at the next meeting with the league regarding the personal conduct policy. The union will make the point the league’s fining Kaepernick when there was no conclusive evidence he used a racial slur is tantamount to policing language like the FCC does.
5. Speaking of those meetings regarding the personal conduct policy, a source told FOX Sports the NFL formally presented to the players during last week’s meeting a proposal that a panel hand out discipline for all violations of the policy, with commissioner Roger Goodell serving as the appeals officer. Goodell had stated multiple times in recent weeks he was open to taking a step back from being both judge and jury when it comes to player discipline. The players are still pushing for a completely neutral judge and arbitrator, though it’s unlikely it will come to that, as the source said Goodell doesn’t want to remove himself from the process completely. Though the union had been brought into the discussions, the belief on both sides is Goodell can decide who will hand out discipline going forward without the NFLPA’s approval.
TEN EVEN QUICKER THOUGHTS
1. Robbie Gould: Reporters overheard Brandon Marshall’s telling the Chicago Bears kicker to "just kick the ball." Sounds like Gould might have tried to interject a comment in a raucous postgame locker room. Position players don’t often take kindly to what they believe is a kicker overstepping his bounds.
2. Marc Trestman: Speaking of the Bears, their coach is a very stoic guy and he has a lot of guys in that locker room who are breathing fire right now. This could be a fascinating dynamic.
3. Aaron Rodgers: Thirteen touchdowns, zero interceptions since he told everyone to relax. He’s playing amazing football right now.
4. Luke Kuechly: Any contact with an official is considered a no-no, but that one should’ve been excused because the official was grabbing the Carolina Panthers’ linebacker’s arm as he was trying to walk away. It’s not like Kuechly was moving toward the official in any manner.
5. Andy Reid: Make that 14-2 after a bye in his career. That’s the sign of a coach who knows how to prepare.
6. Andrew Luck: He’s on pace for 43 touchdowns this season. That would give him 89 for his career. If he averages, let’s say, 35 per season for the next 12 seasons, that will give him 509 at the age of 37. Manning had better pad his touchdown stats while he can because Luck will be chasing that mark.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars: They’re on the board with their first win, though they need to see progress down there. Beating last year’s win total (four) will be tough because there aren’t a lot of gimmes left on their schedule.
8. Trent Richardson: He had 118 total yards on Sunday, the most for him since he posted 144 against the Cowboys on Nov. 18, 2012. He’s been OK for the Indianapolis Colts, who are still hoping their trade for Richardson last year wasn’t the huge gaffe it first seemed to be.
9. Sean Payton: He did a good job of going into detail when asked why he didn’t run the ball on the play that was a game-changing interception by the Detroit Lions’ Glover Quinn. However, Payton could have handled it with some more tact.
10. Harvin: Final thought on him. What could he possibly do in the next nine weeks to justify paying him $11.5 million next season, given his history of creating distractions? It would seem it’s renegotiation or bust for him.