EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Denver was walloped 40-10 by Seattle in the preseason with Ronnie Hillman fumbling, Montee Ball stumbling and Peyton Manning grumbling.
The Broncos are a much different team now, one that should return to Colorado on Tuesday for a victory parade clutching their third Lombardi Trophy.
Chewed out by boss John Elway after that spectacle in Seattle last summer, the Broncos responded with a season for the ages, scoring more points than any team in NFL history (606) with Manning throwing for more touchdowns (55) and yards (5,447) than anyone ever had.
They’re not always the prettiest of passes, as Seahawks star talker and cornerback Richard Sherman pointed out, but Manning has always won with his brain, not his arm.
Manning didn’t disagree with Sherman’s assessment that he “throws ducks.”
“I do throw ducks,” he said. “I throw for a lot of yards and TD ducks, so I’m actually quite proud of it.”
Manning’s “Duck Dynasty” consists of an unprecedented five players who caught 60 or more passes and scored 10 or more touchdowns: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno.
This could be the difference Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, where the forecast isn’t for weather as frigid as so many feared.
The Broncos boast enough pick-your-poison talent in their five-receiver sets to befuddle even the stingiest of secondaries like Seattle’s. Including the playoffs, Manning has thrown for an astonishing 59 touchdowns this season.
“I think they had a heck of a season,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if they’re going to score 59 touchdowns in one game. I think that would be a record, too. … We’ve got our own accolades and awards and none of it means anything when you get between those lines.”
No, what matters is execution and Manning has had his team on a no-nonsense mission for months and he’s only ratcheted up his focus and his dogged determination during preparations for the biggest game of his stellar career.
Manning is the only player in this game who’s won a Super Bowl, and his top target Sunday could even be Jacob Tamme or Bubba Caldwell. He doesn’t discriminate, he distributes. He doesn’t often get duped. He deciphers. He doesn’t force passes, he finds the best matchup.
The line’s also opened enough holes for Knowshon Moreno to capitalize on soft underneath coverages to amass 1,761 yards from scrimmage, rendering Ball a fresh-legged cohort and Hillman an afterthought.
Moreno picked up the blitzes and the first downs all season, providing balance to the Broncos’ aerial fireworks.
Even though star left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season with a foot injury in September, Manning’s jersey hardly needed the laundry as he was sacked an average of just 1.11 times a game, the lowest takedown rate of any quarterback who started all of his team’s games.
“Things do take time, and I finally got with the right group of guys,” Bailey said. “I played with some great players, but this is definitely the best team I’ve been on.”
Broncos 27, Seahawks 23