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Klee: Peyton's return to Indy? Deja vu

By: Paul Klee
October 19, 2013 Updated: October 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm
Caption +
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning calls out a play before the snap against the Ravens Thursday, Sept. 4, 2013, during the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

INDIANAPOLIS - This will be weird. This will be Hollywood drama on a Midwestern stage, this will be a forever highlight on NFL Films.

This will be Americana in shoulder pads.

Peyton Manning's return to Lucas Oil Stadium will be a homecoming, a real-life TV drama complete with tears (in the stands) and violence (on the FieldTurf).

This is something else, too: A football flashback.

These Broncos are those Colts.

The football show that takes the field in Broncos orange will look quite familiar to Colts fans that paid big bucks to witness a bizarre confluence of the past and present:

Manning's Broncos are Manning's Colts.

To test this theory I found the man who is most familiar with both.

"The one thing I know is the common denominator is No. 18," Broncos defense coordinator Jack Del Rio said when I shared my theory. "He's a special football player, the way he prepares, the way he demands of himself and his teammates, every day, is amazing. It's something to watch."

After a pause, Del Rio added, "It's great having him on my side right now."

As the head coach in Jacksonville, Del Rio led the Jaguars against Manning and the Colts at least twice per season. They were division rivals in the AFC South.

"What I remember is that we didn't win often enough when we went against them," Del Rio told me.

As the defensive coordinator of the Broncos, Del Rio leads his defense against Manning and the NFL's best offense in practice.

Del Rio saw this Manning show in Indianapolis.

Del Rio sees this Manning show, every day, in Denver.

"Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning and that crew that they had, it caused a lot of problems - a lot of problems for people," Del Rio said. "So (I have) good memories, in terms of great competition. I would've liked to have a few more W's."

Manning's Colts went 11-5 against Del Rio's Jags. That's not terrible, actually, since Manning's Colts averaged a 12-4 record in those eight seasons.

Why is a home team honoring an opposing player with a pregame tribute? That record, right there.

I couldn't convince Del Rio to share specific similarities between this Broncos offense and those Colts offenses.

He did say: "There are certain things I'm aware of. Right now this is my offense, so I'm not going to talk a lot about our offense and what we're doing."

In 2006, when Manning's Colts won the Super Bowl, he averaged 275 passing yards and finished with 31 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 101.

Six weeks into this season, he's averaging 363 passing yards and has thrown for 22 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 128.8.

Manning is the common denominator, in Del Rio's words.

His cast looks similar, too.

In 2004, Manning's finest statistical season in Indy, he had three receivers go over 1,000 yards (Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley, Reggie Wayne).

This season, he's on pace to have three receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker) and a tight end (Julius Thomas) go over 1,000 yards.

These Broncos are on pace to blow away the numbers by those Colts, and everyone else.

"I can just say that when they have weaponry like that it presents a lot of challenges. You almost have to pick your poison," Del Rio said. "That's what we tried to do (in Jacksonville). Some days we were better at it than others."

The one day, in particular, was Dec.?10, 2006.

Del Rio's Jaguars offered a rare blueprint on slowing down Manning's Colts, who were 10-2 heading into the game. The Jags rolled up 375 rushing yards and 23 first downs.

Manning completed 25 of 50 passes. In his 89 regular-season games since then, he's had only four games with a completion percentage at 50 percent or worse.

"That was the day that at the end of the game all the experts said the Colts and Peyton were done and had no chance," Del Rio said.

"Then they just went on and won the Super Bowl."

These Broncos aren't into comparisons. Manning hesitates to compare his current MVP-caliber season to his other MVP seasons, or teams to teams, or himself to other quarterbacks. Broncos coach John Fox won't make comparisons, either, unless they are between his favorite fishing holes to catch redfish.

But as Manning returns to his former city, the comparison is fair:

Sunday night is football history on repeat, a homecoming that's also a flashback.

These Broncos are those Colts, Version 2.0.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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