DENVER — Finally, after a deep breath, Peyton Manning allowed us to venture into his true feelings about his first season with the Broncos.
In a moment of honest reflection, at the tail end of another winning news conference, the ultimate quarterback offered this nugget of truth: "It is certainly more than I expected."
How Manning has transformed the Broncos and turned a 2-3 start into an extraordinary finish? It is unlikely and unforgettable.
“Historical would be the word I would use,” coach John Fox said.
It is far from over. Denver thumped Kansas City 38-3 Sunday and will be the favored team for as long as the Broncos play into 2013. Sports Authority Field was in a tizzy. It will stay that way.
On New Year’s Eve, "Auld Lang Syne" tells us to reflect on the year that was.
The Auld QB from Tennessee told us the same: This type of NFL season doesn’t come around often. Celebrate the moment, soak it in, understand how rare it is.
I think Manning added, Aw shucks, too. He certainly added “neat.”
"I definitely will take the time to reflect,” Manning said. "It's been a gratifying regular season. I will admit that."
This Denver team is different, and this Denver locker room was different. The company line was blurred. Instead of rambling on about the next game, Von Miller rambled out in a cowboy hat. Champ Bailey acknowledged he’s “going to enjoy this” in his 14th NFL season.
Manning said that’s OK. So it must be OK.
“This is my eighth year,” Kevin Vickerson said. “You have to cherish teams like this, these moments. I’m telling you, it doesn’t come around like this.”
“All I know is this opportunity doesn’t come (often). I’m going to make the most of it and make sure everybody else understands that,” Bailey said. “I remember going to the playoffs my rookie year (in Washington) and not going back until I got here.”
Manning was asked what it means to earn the No. 1 seed and have the rockin’, stompin’ Mile High crowd for the duration of the AFC playoffs. Manning deferred.
“I guess I’ll address that at some point, another time,” he said.
Instead, he implored us to acknowledge a Broncos season that did a U-turn into special.
The Broncos are the No. 1 seed for the sixth time. Four of the previous five played in the Super Bowl.
During this 11-game winning streak, an opponent never came within a touchdown of beating the Broncos. Denver has never done that. Only two other teams have.
Denver has played 17 quarters since it last trailed on the scoreboard. The Broncos haven’t lost since Oct. 7 and haven’t trailed since Dec. 2.
Denver has never had a QB quite like Manning. Less than two years removed from a fourth neck surgery, he set team records for completions and yards in a season. Take that, Jay.
Manning already held the record for touchdown passes in a season. He needed only three quarters to toss three more Sunday. That gave him 37, including a leaping catch by Demaryius Thomas.
“It’s hard to throw it over his head, I’ll tell you that,” Manning said.
It is also quite possible Denver’s never had a team as balanced as these Broncos. The reason: Denver’s "D" is in the conversation as the NFL’s best.
"I think we are the best defense,” Vickerson said. “We’re putting it on tape for everyone to see.”
It isn’t that Manning usually spins the truth. His clichés are usually true.
But it wasn’t until Sunday evening, after a deep breath, when Manning cracked a grin and revealed this season in Denver has outperformed even what the perfectionist expected.
“I’m grateful and humble for it,” he said.
Manning’s advice: Celebrate this Broncos run for as long as it lasts.
This kind of season doesn’t come around often.