Published: October 27, 2013
DENVER - Worried? Sure you were worried. The Broncos trailed Washington and homecoming king Mike Shanahan by two touchdowns, and it was weirdly quiet at Mile High.
A team carrying around the burden of Super Bowl expectations was sagging under the weight. Consecutive losses seemed a frightening possibility, as well as mass depression on The Front Range.
Worried? Broncos cornerback Chris Harris wasn't worried.
"No," Harris said, laughing in an upbeat Broncos locker room. "I wasn't worried at all. With another quarterback? Yeah, I would have worried."
But, Harris said with a smile, the Broncos have Peyton Manning.
Manning and his offense led the march from a 21-7 deficit to a 45-21 demolition job. Manning calmly, methodically and magnificently transformed a game.
It's easy to get blas?about Manning. It's easy to forget we're watching one of football history's top quarterbacks - and top football players, period - go to work each Sunday wearing a Broncos uniform.
Savor this, and don't make the mistake of thinking it will last forever. In the twilight of one of football's finest careers, Manning delivered another masterpiece.
Yes, he said after the game, Washington seized his attention by taking the lead. But when someone suggested he might have been "frustrated," Manning spoke words that would make an English teacher proud. He's precise with his passes. He's also precise with his language.
"I don't think frustrated is the word," he said in his Louisiana drawl. "I think determined is the word."
The play that best revealed his determination came with 3:40 left in the third quarter. With a little less than 20 minutes left in what would become a rout, the Broncos still trailed by seven points and faced a third and 10 at their 28.
Manning retreated into the pocket and bounced on his heels as he searched the Washington secondary. Nothing there. He keep bouncing, kept searching until he saw Wes Welker.
Welker wasn't really open, but Manning had no choice. Washington defensive end Stephen Bowen, all 310 pounds of him, was closing fast on the pass rush. Manning threw an expertly placed sidearm throw into Welker's hands.
First down, Broncos. And goodbye, Washington. Denver scored 10 plays later to tie the game.
Of course, the case could be made that Denver brought needless excitement to this game. Washington is weak, but the Broncos did a superb job of making their opponent look strong for far too long.
The Broncos might not be the NFL's best team, but the Broncos are certainly the NFL's best second-half team. If the Broncos ever consistently bring the determination, to swipe Manning's word, of the second half to all four quarters, watch out.
That's not one of those unlikely ifs. This team has everything required to become an overwhelmingly devastating force.
Just ask Shanahan. Seconds after Knowshon Moreno scored to give the Broncos the lead, Shanahan stood motionless on the east sideline. His eyes were drained of all hope. In better days, he stood on the west sideline as Broncos coach. For two seasons, he watched over the best team in the NFL.
"I was disappointed," Shanahan said a few minutes after the defeat.
Disappointed because Manning was determined.