If anybody thought Peyton Manning was going to get through this comeback season with the Denver Broncos without having a game like he had against the Atlanta Falcons Monday night, then you're certainly very disappointed right now after he threw three interceptions in the first three drives. I've always believed that Manning's year away from the game after neck fusion surgery was going to cause some residual issues that would affect him in 2012. That's what we all saw against the Falcons.
Peyton's Horrible Night
The underlying issue with Manning's three interceptions wasn't physical in any way that I could tell. Rather, the interceptions seemed to stem more from a lack of vision (not seeing the safety coming over for extra coverage would be one example), some residual rust stemming from his season away from the field, and perhaps a streak of stubbornness. I don't know if any of the interceptions were also a result of poor communication by the Broncos, but I wouldn't be surprised. The first half, especially, was an emotionally-charged 30 minutes filled with a great deal of acrimony directed at the replacement officials. Any kind of offensive rhythm was heavily challenged by the constant stoppage of play.
Falcons Defense Provided Excellent Test
The Falcons' defense was athletic, quick, and well-coached. Broncos fans need to remember that Mike Nolan, the current defensive coordinator for the Falcons, was once the defensive coordinator for the Broncos. He was hired during former head coach Josh McDaniels' first year with the team only to leave at the end of the season to become the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. During the 2008 season when he was with Denver, Nolan improved the defense from 29th in the NFL to seventh overall. Nolan's defense in Atlanta was certainly a tougher obstacle for Manning than what the Pittsburgh Steelers presented the week before.
Manning's Problems Are More Mental Than Physical
The Falcons' secondary was definitely there to make the plays, but ultimately it was Manning who deserves the lion's share of the blame for the interceptions. It still looks like Manning thinks he can make certain throws that he just can't anymore and shouldn't try. This isn't because he physically can't get the ball there on time. Rather, it's because he isn't seeing the entire field the way he used to before his surgeries. Part of that can be attributed to mental rust from his year off, and part of that is getting used to working with an entirely new set of teammates and a new offensive scheme.
Mistakes like what we saw from Manning tonight are to be expected, but I highly doubt that we'll see any sort of game in the future in which he makes so many of them so early. Clearly, Manning stubbornly kept trying to squeeze the ball into tight spaces far downfield for some reason. I think he truly felt that he needed to get as many points on the board tonight as possible, and he pushed when he should have been patient. I have no doubt that Manning will figure it all out by the time the Houston Texans travel to Denver next Sunday. I'm also quite certain that he'll never have another first quarter for the rest of the season that was as disastrous as the one he just had.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor who writes about the Denver Broncos for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A lifelong football fan, she began following the Broncos upon moving to Colorado in 2001.