DENVER -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame took the football that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning tossed Sunday when he broke the career passing yardage record. But the way things unfolded in the rest of the 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Manning may not want the ball back.
After an injury-marred week, a day that was supposed to be about history and Manning’s place in it instead dissolved into a series of awkward, misplaced moments. Despite setting a record for career passing yards -- the ball used in the 4-yard completion to Ronnie Hillman that pushed Manning past Brett Favre was quickly delivered to the Hall’s Joe Horrigan for safekeeping -- Manning closed out one of the worst days of his storied career on the sideline, watching Brock Osweiler play in his place.
“I didn’t play well. I had a bad game, and I’m not sure what else you can say about that," Manning said. “Whether it was because of my injuries or my poor decision-making, I tend to lean on the poor decision-making and some bad throws."
After nine games, Manning has 17 interceptions, a total that includes his four from Sunday. He hasn’t had 17 interceptions after nine games since he was a rookie in 1998.
Manning can still make the throws. Throws like the rollout downfield toss to Owen Daniels two weeks ago or the dart down the hash to Emmanuel Sanders for a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts. But everything has to be just right.
He has to have enough to room to get a full stride in the pocket, to be able to stand tall, to get a full arm swing. And he has to feel 100 percent, or far closer to it than he obviously was Sunday.
Because Manning, who has had treatment for right (throwing) shoulder, foot and rib injuries over the last two weeks, probably should have sat out Sunday’s game. And while it would have been his first missed start other than the 2011 season, which he missed after his fourth neck surgery, the decision to let him play, no matter how it was made, blew up in the Broncos' face.
And the 20-20 of hindsight Sunday was dialed in squarely on the idea that Manning should have worn a visor instead of a helmet. That once Manning had discomfort in his ribs after Friday’s practice, it was time to make an uncomfortable, unpopular call regarding a remember-when player who has accomplished most everything that can be accomplished in the game.
“I trust players, especially veteran players, but it wasn’t like he didn’t [practice]," head coach Gary Kubiak said. “He did practice on Friday. I watched him practice Friday. I watched him make all the plays, all the throws. I felt good coming out of Friday. I guess my point that I’m trying to make is that when Saturday there was more, that’s when I felt like I should have said, ‘OK, no.’ That’s my point. Guys want to play. That’s why he’s a great player. That’s why he’s going to be a Hall of Fame player. They want to compete. They want to do everything they can for their football team, but as a football coach, sometimes you have to say, ‘No, I don’t think this is the right thing today,’ like I said."
Manning said it would be "easy" to say injuries were at the root of a 5-of-20 passing day. He said it would be hard for him to use it as “an excuse ... after the fact."
But several of the Chiefs’ player alluded to Manning's age.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said: “Well, he’s almost 40 years old, so he’s not the guy he used to be. He’s still a great quarterback, but he’s just not what he used to be."
This has been a difficult, challenging season for the 39-year-old Manning. He’s trying -- hard -- to fit an entirely new scheme. The Broncos offensive line protects him well at times, but at others it simply looks overwhelmed. The Broncos’ run game is an unsolved mystery even to the team’s own coaches and players. Manning can’t throw off his back foot or play through the inevitable aches and pains like he used to. These are human football frailties, undeniable and undefeated.
Manning has said throughout his time in Denver he has had to make adjustments and concessions in his post-spinal fusion career. Sunday, he faced another concession.
"I thought I felt good enough to play, that’s what I thought, maybe that was the wrong -- maybe that was a false feeling by me or whatever that was," Manning said. "I was honest with them with how I felt, thought I was good enough to play. Maybe, looking back, that was the wrong, um. I had the wrong indication by me, and by going out there trying to help the team, I ended up hurting the team. I’m disappointed about that."