ENGLEWOOD — Peyton Manning's road to the Super Bowl has taken an unexpected detour. Through Omaha, of all places.
On Wednesday, Manning pretended to shed a bit of light on his new favorite city, the name of which he shouted out 44 times from the line of scrimmage during Denver's playoff win over San Diego last weekend.
"I've had a lot of people ask me what 'Omaha' means," Manning said. "It's a run play, but it could be a pass play, or a play-action pass, depending on a couple of things. The wind, which way we're going, the quarter and the jerseys we're wearing. It varies from play to play."
With the AFC title game looming and the number of reporters quadrupling for his weekly session with the media, No. 18 was at his deadpan best.
All joking aside, though, America's new obsession with Omaha — a top trender on Twitter during last Sunday's game — provides yet another window into the Manning mystique.
At some points last Sunday, he used it as a snap count. At others, it was a dummy cadence. And at others, it may have meant something — or nothing — but only the other 10 guys on the field wearing orange would've known.
By simply perfecting their shenanigans with the snap count, Manning and the Broncos found a big advantage. They drew the Chargers offside five times. Then, once the San Diego defenders realized they'd been duped, they spent the rest of the game a half-second slow.
Next Sunday, Manning faces New England with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Patriots know what they're in for.
"That's always been a big part of Peyton's game, is controlling the defensive front, however he does it with the fake cadence, double cadence, hard counts, so forth," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We have to do a great job, be disciplined there."
By doing most of his best work at the line before the ball is snapped, Manning set the NFL record for yardage (5,477) and touchdown passes (55) this season. Yet for all his success, there are three stats that stand out in a bad way as he prepares for the Patriots and his 15th career meeting against Tom Brady.
—Manning is 4-10 against Brady. He's always looked at the games as Colts or Broncos vs. Patriots, though Manning doesn't shy away from praising the quarterback he's shared the spotlight with over the years.
"I think the one thing that jumps out about Tom is just his consistency," Manning said. "I feel like he's been a better player each year than he was the year before. That, to me, speaks to his work ethic in the offseason, his refusal to be complacent or satisfied."
—Manning's season low in passing yardage came against New England in Week 12. He threw for 150 yards, as Belichick drew up a game plan that dared the Broncos to run. They did, gaining 280 yards on the ground (224 from Knowshon Moreno), but it didn't produce a 'W.'
"Coach Belichick is the best coach that I've ever competed against," Manning said. "I think it's safe to say he'll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all time."
—Finally, Manning is 10-11 career in the playoffs with two trips to the Super Bowl and one win. A pedestrian record for someone so good. One thought: Manning's preparation is so meticulous during the regular season that there's nowhere to go once the playoffs arrive and the games get more important. He gives that theory no credence.
"I guess what I would say is, if you have to prepare harder for this game, that means you probably haven't been preparing hard enough all season long," he said.
For teams trying to stop him, part of the preparation during playoff time means figuring out what "Omaha," or any other word of the week, might mean on any given snap.
The word "Omaha" isn't all that uncommon. Manning's brother, Eli, has used it. So has Brady, in fact.
Asked how it came about, Manning again played it coy: "It wasn't my pick, I guess," he said.