Think Peyton Manning's 100% yet? You may want to hold off. (Getty Images)
Football isn't just a team game; it's also a game of communication and repetition. You can put a Hall of Fame quarterback together with a group of talented receivers, but until everyone's on the same page, individual pedigrees don't really matter. This was very evident in the Denver Broncos' 30-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Peyton Manning's Invesco Field debut. Manning made some good throws and was very much in command of the offense pre-snap, but circumstances conspired against him more often than not once the action began.
Manning, who played just one drive in the Broncos' preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, went the entire first half on Saturday night. He also took a few hits courtesy of Seattle's opportunistic defense, which has caused turnovers on five of the eight drives it's seen from starting offenses through two games. At this point, it's safe to say that getting up after those hits and continuing to play is the main goal, and everything else is gravy. That said, there were a few warning signs in Manning's performance, in which he went 16 of 23 for 177 yards with two interceptions.
The first pick came in the first quarter, with the Broncos driving for a touchdown. Manning threw from the no-huddle at the Seahawks' 9-yard line, defensive lineman Red Bryant tipped the ball, and linebacker K.J. Wright came down with it. That would seem an oddity, except that Manning appeared to have slight issues with passing height last week, as well. The second pick was a real problem -- Manning threw to tight end Joel Dreessen, but it was a downfield wobbler and at least four Seattle defenders were in the area. Safety Jeron Johnson was the lucky recipient, and it wasn't the first time Manning has been off on the deeper throws.
"Every interception has its own story, [and] nobody really wants to hear it at the end of the day," Manning said after the game. "A quarterback signs the check on every ball that he throws. There's an old saying that the most important part of every play is to possess the ball at the end of that play. That's the quarterback's job. I have to do a better job of that. Two interceptions tonight—two in the red zone two weeks in a row … just can't have it. Tipped balls … whatever it is … just can't have it. I've got to find a way to protect the ball better and ensure we get some kind of points when we're down there in the red zone."
In the end, it's just unwise to expect too much, too soon. Manning is, after all, recovering from four shoulder surgeries in the last three years, and a resulting nerve impingement in his throwing arm. That he's playing at all right now is a testament to his own scorching work ethic, and the Broncos' impressive faith in his future. Manning also made good throws that had bad results, such as the flat-out drop by tight end Jacob Tamme in the end zone near the conclusion of the first half. Tamme was wide open, Manning threaded the needle, and the former Indianapolis Colts teammates just couldn't make it work.
"I didn't see the film," Manning said. "It was an incomplete pass. We got the field goal there. I thought we had good field position. The [unnecessary roughness penalty on center J.D. Walton] put us in a tough spot—first-and-21 from the 21[-yard line] wasn't ideal. [We] got back into decent field position and had a shot at it. Obviously it would have been nice to have a little more time there—have a couple more downs. Jacob Tamme is going to play a huge role for this team this year, and it's not a factor in my mind."
Peyton Manning will obviously play a much larger role for the Broncos this year, but it's also best to exercise patience in waiting for the old No. 18 to return.
"I was pretty pleased with the first half," head coach John Fox concluded. "Other than the 0-3 turnover margin, I thought we did pretty good to take the lead 10-9 before the half. You would have liked it to be better as far as the points because we dropped a couple points off with field position. Again, something to build on and something to get better from."
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