Updated: December 4, 2012 at 12:00 am
ENGLEWOOD • So much is made of what Peyton Manning’s passes look like after four neck operations and a season away from football.
Do they wobble? Do they spiral? Do they dip or dive?
No matter, they’re almost always on target.
The Broncos quarterback is completing 68 percent of his throws, just shy of his career high of 68.8 percent set in 2009 — and that’s with his top two targets dropping 15 passes.
Manning has completed at least 70 percent of his throws eight times this season, tying his career high. He’s also on pace to throw for 4,669 yards, which would be 31 yards short of his career best.
“It’s pretty historical,” coach John Fox said. “I wish we’d documented the process, to be honest with you. He had to come back from the injury he had, the residual of the injury he had. It takes a special guy to come to a new team, new teammates, new city — everything about it is new other than the conference — it’s pretty amazing, actually.”
Manning’s accuracy would be even more remarkable if not for a combined 15 drops by receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who have atoned for their blunders by together collecting 125 receptions for 1,816 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Thomas had two head-turning TD catches last weekend in a win over Tampa Bay that clinched the AFC West for the Broncos (9-3). On one, he reached high between a safety and linebacker in tight coverage to snare the throw, and the other was something special even by Manning’s standards.
Thomas curled around defender Leonard Johnson in the end zone. Just as he turned, the pass from Manning was in the crick of his right elbow.
“I threw that ball as early as you can throw a pass,” Manning said. “An old coach would call that an anticipatory throw. I’m not sure if that is a word or not. But I threw that ball super early and Demaryius kind of came right around the DB and made a heck of a catch. That was really a special play.”
Manning may be as precise as ever, but he’s certainly not as polished as he’d like to be following his departure from Indianapolis. He continues to rehab after his arm was weakened by a nerve injury in his neck that sidelined him last season.
“I really feel like I am a different quarterback,” said the four-time MVP. “I don’t think I’m trying to be the quarterback I was when I was 28, 29. I’m 36 years old, I’m coming off a season off. I’m with a new team, new teammates. I’m kind of re-establishing myself as a quarterback at this time.
“It’s a totally new chapter in my football career and I’m trying to be the best quarterback I can in this chapter.”
Whatever Manning’s lost in zip, he’s made up for in other ways. He’s completed 304-of-448 passes for 3,502 yards with a franchise-record 29 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions for an AFC-best 104.6 QB rating.
“I’m not sure I can do some of the things I could do when I was 28,” Manning said. “Is that because I’m 36 years old? Could be. Is it because I’m playing with a different team and I’m getting on the same page with different teammates? It could be all of those. It could be a combination of a couple of them.”
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