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Beyond the Boxscore

Peyton Manning gets exposed: Looks like Michael Jordan with Wizards as Wade's Bulls beckon

Gary Kubiak Texans playcard
Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak says he sees the same old Peyton Manning. Photo by Michelle Watson/
Peyton Manning Broncos
Gary Kubiak Texans playcard
Michael Jordan Wizards
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

Everyone wants to believe that Peyton Manning is back. Buying into the myth is good for the NFL, good for the media, good for merchandise sales.

So Sports Illustrated plants Manning on the cover after Week One. And Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth of Sunday Night Football . . . well, they just act like they want to plant a kiss on No. 18, gushing like 14-year-olds high on young love.

The Denver Broncos' opponents trip all over themselves to be properly deferential to Manning too. Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak does his best in his weekly Monday press conference.

 Jordan had a few 40-point games with Washington, but he never came close to being the Michael of old. Just like Manning will never come close to being the Peyton of old. 

"It’s the same guy to me," Kubiak says. "I just watched (Manning) briefly. I watched him against San Francisco in the preseason and last week against Pittsburgh.

"He looks the same to me."

Then, Manning goes out and looks like Michael Jordan on the Wizards on Monday Night Football. This is what Manning really is now — a shadow of himself who can scare now and again.

Jordan had a few 40-point games with Washington, but he never came close to being the Michael of old. Just like Manning will never come close to being the Peyton of old.

At age 36, with that fused-together neck and too many miles on his right arm, Manning is destined to be a shadow of himself. He'll have some good games like his season opening orchestra against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he'll have plenty of games like last night, too — when he's the reason the Broncos lose.

Three interceptions in the first seven minutes of the game, three interceptions in his first three drives no less . . . Manning throws Denver out of the game before Jon Gruden even has a chance to kiss his behind.

It's Falcons 20, Broncos 0 well before anyone on ESPN gets to say anything ridiculous at halftime. And down goes the Manning mystique. Or at least it should.

Oh, the Texans will still respectably bow at the altar of Manning publicly this week, talk about how he bounced back to make it a respectable 27-21 final margin on Monday night . . . blah, blah, blah.

Truth is, Manning has much more to fear from Wade Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense than they do of him at this point.

Yes, Peyton Manning used to always beat the Texans. But that guy doesn't exist anymore.

 Peyton Manning isn't close to being one of the best quarterbacks in the league anymore. He may not even be in the Top 10. 

This is a new Peyton, an old man Peyton who overthrows Eric Decker badly in the fourth quarter with a chance to come back on second down and then gets drilled on third down. The Broncos hardly crawl back because of Manning. They do it on the work of Willis McGahee (22 rushes for 113 yards and two touchdowns) and a pretty good run defense — almost in spite of Manning.

And when they need a good throw in the fourth quarter to really make it interesting? Well, Peyton cannot deliver.

"He’s on a fine football team," Kubiak says of Manning earlier in the day. "John’s [Elway] built a hell of a team over there. I think he’s brought tremendous leadership to a good, young football team and it shows. 

"[He's] playing with a lot of poise."

At least, Kubiak got the fine football team part right. The Broncos are good enough to let Manning have some moments. But this idea that he makes Denver a Super Bowl-worthy team is a joke.

All the poise in the world doesn't matter if you no longer have the arm.

"That was self inflicted by myself," Manning says in his ESPN-broadcast press session after the game.

They've made a corn maze out of Peyton in crazed Colorado and in a way it's fitting. For that's what Peyton Manning is now, a largely overblown, corny roadside attraction that harkens back to a long-gone era in America.

Ghost Tales

The only difference between Manning in this comeback and Jordan in his comebacks is that Manning hasn't experimented with changing his jersey number.

Manning isn't close to being one of the best quarterbacks in the league anymore. He may not even be in the Top 10.

Don't be surprised if the Texans defense drives that point home in the Mile High City, in J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph and Connor Barwin's first real showcase game of the season (CBS lead voice Jim Nantz figures to be in the building). It's no great stretch to suggest that Matt Schaub will be the best quarterback on the Broncos' field.

 "That was self inflicted by myself," Manning says. 

No matter what everyone desperately wants to believe.

"That's a tough quarterback to go against," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan insists for the cameras after vastly outplaying the bygone legend.

Plenty of commentators will maintain that Manning is due for a "bounce-back game" against the Texans, that Houston should almost be more frightened now. That argument will fill up a lot of newsprint in papers stuck in the past. But it's all ghost stories.

Peyton Manning was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time — no question, better than Tom Brady in both men's primes. But that No. 18 no longer exists.

"Any time you come out and throw three interceptions in the first quarter, you really put your team in a hole," Manning says. "It's disappointing. It's really a tough start . . .

"I'm not going to make any excuses."

 There's no shame in longer being dominant. Peyton Manning had one hell of a run. But now he's simply hanging on like that alien-looking No. 23 with the Wizards, chasing his own shadow of greatness. Round and round and round.

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