Out-Manning the Eagles

Posted: October 01, 2013

DENVER - They used to say of Peyton Manning, "Well, he's no Milt Plum."

Not anymore.

Manning's fourth touchdown pass during his evisceration of the Eagles yesterday tied Plum's NFL record for TD passes without an interception to start a season.

No big deal?

Well, consider: John F. Kennedy was alive to see Plum play. Also, it took Plum 10 games to throw 16 touchdown passes in 1960.

It took Manning four games. Well, almost four games. Manning did not play in the fourth quarter yesterday.

Manning's 16 scoring passes in the first four games broke the record of 14, held by three players and set by Slingin' Sammy Baugh . . . 70 years ago. FDR, an avid football fan, likely took time away from WWII to thrill to Baugh's feat.

Against the likes of the Eagles, Manning's dominance in the 52-20 win was inevitable.

Manning went 28-for-34, only his second-best performance in a 6-day span. He went 32-for-37 against Oakland last Monday.

"Eleven incomplete passes in two games?" asked his new favorite target, Wes Welker. "That pretty much says it, doesn't it?"

A ragged Eagles defense endured one of Manning's more magnificent afternoons. Those afternoons are, by any measure, dwindling. Manning is 37, but he would probably trade his neck for the 78-year-old Plum's.

With the teams playing in different conferences, there is a good chance most of these Eagles won't face this Manning again.

Their impressions?

"He's next-level," said Earl Wolff, a fifth-round rookie safety.

"He's like an offensive coordinator on the field," said second-year defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

Even Peyton Manning experts could not help but marvel.

"We saw something special today," said Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. He has seen Manning be special before.

Manning now has beaten Lurie's team four times in five tries. Manning's 114.6 passer rating against the Eagles is his second-best among teams he has faced at least five times.

Lurie knows that Manning has been special since the day he went national at Tennessee. When his career ends, no quarterback will have lived a more compelling story. Spotlighted since boyhood, he has been the most eloquent face of the NFL of his generation.

Brett Favre? A gunslinger who revived the Green Bay tradition before his bizarre retirement saga. Manning's 24th four-touchdown game yesterday gave him that record alone, just ahead of Favre.

Dan Marino? His rattlesnake release, his corps of receivers and his charisma made Miami relevant, but he never won a Super Bowl. The same is true of Buffalo's Jim Kelly, the NFL's ultimate bridesmaid.

There is not enough time for Manning to catch the ultimate winner, Joe Montana, who has four Super Bowl wins, and whose flair for drama underscores Manning's reputed lack thereof - even though Manning's 38 fourth-quarter comeback wins are the NFL record.

Similarly, Manning never will be Tom Brady, who is cerebrally equal, aesthetically superior and wildly more successful.

And yes, while Brady might have the looks and the actress baby mama and the supermodel wife, and while his story is interesting - the biggest draft mistake in NFL history (he went in the seventh round) - Manning's narrative is unique.

Pedigreed, he spurned his daddy's college, Ole Miss, for Tennessee, where his failures mark his time there as much as his records. Targeted as the first overall pick in 1998, he returned the Colts to NFL prominence, including their only Super Bowl win in Indianapolis. Then, last year, after his four neck surgeries, the Colts junked him.

Questioned after a herniated disk in his neck cost him 2011, he chose to play in the shadow and in the employ of Denver demigod John Elway. Manning won Comeback Player of the Year and finished second in MVP voting.

Manning not only lacks the raw arm strength of many of his historical peers, he might have the third-worst arm in his family. And, God bless him, it's not his rugged good looks that sell Buicks.

It is his gift of leadership; his unquestioned even-handedness; his frank assessments of himself and his team and the world at large; his bottomless humility and deflection.

Yesterday, for instance, Manning credited the Broncos' fierce running attack in the first half for setting up his third-quarter transcendence: 15-for-16, 158 yards, three touchdowns.

That is classic Manning misdirection. The Broncos ran 12 times for 48 yards in the first half. In the third quarter, Manning needed an established running game like Michael Jordan needed Bill Wennington.

He beat the blitz twice; first, Brandon Boykin's blitz, for 10 yards; then Casey Matthews', for 11. Manning saw Cary Williams back off Demaryius Thomas at midfield like Thomas carried typhoid, and so Manning hit Thomas for 15 conceded yards. He saw 250-pound tight end Julius Thomas matched up against smallish Wolff, who somebody thinks weighs 210; Manning hit Thomas for 13 overpowering yards.

He saw no one covering Welker at the line of scrimmage (incredibly), checked out of the initial play and fired to Welker for a quick 8. He let running back Ronnie Hillman run into the coverage of inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, then dumped to Hillman, who scampered for 14. His fourth TD pass went to Welker, who, Manning recognized, had single coverage against Boykin.

"He's seen it all," sighed Williams.

"Peyton Manning is just Peyton Manning," Cox said.

Peyton Manning likes being Peyton Manning, playing nearly flawless football.

"I enjoyed this," he said.

He can laugh at himself; at his little brother, Eli, who stumbled into two Super Bowl wins; and at his father, Archie, who never had Peyton's caliber of teammates; at his coaches, if need be. He can host "Saturday Night Live" and make you laugh, too.

The Broncos scored a franchise-record 52 points yesterday. After each score, a cowgirl charges down the middle of Sports Authority Field on the back of their Arabian gelding mascot.

"May have to give ol' Thunder an IV after this one," Manning quipped.

That's right: He knows the horse's name. How many Eagles do you think know that balmy bird is named Swoop?

This is the depth of Manning's preparation:

After the game, Manning knew Milt Plum's college (Penn State), his pro team in 1960 (the Browns), and his uniform number - 16, of course. Shoot, he probably knew Plum's telephone number, too.

Maybe Manning should use it; maybe call Milt next week from Dallas, when Manning makes the record his own.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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