By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) “Peyton Manning can’t throw the ball 10 yards. His arm strength is gone.”
That’s one of the things that was said about Manning last year as he sat out following a neck injury that required multiple surgical procedures.
Multiple neck surgeries can be tough on the body, especially if you are a football player. To see Manning resume his career in Week 1 against the once-maniacal Pittsburgh Steelers was a dramatic moment for a future Hall of Fame quarterback who ranks with the best of all-time.
Manning may have only one Super Bowl ring, but he doesn’t have to take a back seat to many. Perhaps Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino.
Perhaps no others.
It was just a regular season game, but it had to be very satisfying for Manning, who had not played in an NFL game since the end of the 2010 season. He knew he was prepared and that his body had gone through the healing process.
But to actually go out and compete for 60 minutes in an NFL game is a true test.
Manning passed with flying colors as the Broncos pulled off a 31-19 victory.
The numbers were good for Manning and as the game progressed, he seemed to gain more control and perform better.
For the record, Manning completed 19-of-26 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Not the kind of classic Manning 4-TD performance that fans got used to when he was in his heyday with the Colts, but the kind that says this man is in control and he knows what he’s doing.
Manning is running the Broncos’ offense now. John Fox may be the head coach and Mike McCoy may be the offensive coordinator but it is now Manning’s show.
Elway didn’t bring Manning to Denver to make him run somebody else’s system. They got him so that he could be comfortable and play at his best.
That means operating out of the no-huddle, reading the defensive alignment and calling the right play. That’s how Manning works.
He has to do it that way. No quarterback has ever been better at diagnosing what a defense is going to do and reading where the pressure will come from more than Manning. He needs to do it his way or he’s just another aging athlete trying to hang on.
It’s going to be difficult enough as the weeks and the games go by. It’s one thing to come all the way back from multiple neck surgeries; it’s quite another to play 16 regular season games and then get through the playoffs.
Manning will have to negotiate a minefield every week. Staying upright will be a big test.
But not the only test. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who move to new teams have never won another title with a new team.
Joe Namath was a joke with the Los Angeles Rams. Joe Montana couldn’t do it with the Kansas Chiefs. Brett Favre couldn’t do it with the Minnesota Vikings and Kurt Warner couldn’t do it with the Arizona Cardinals – although he came incredibly close.
The latter three performed well once they left their original teams, but the aging process and new teammates did not allow those quarterbacks to get back to the top.
Manning had a superior opening game in Denver, one filled with much promise. But the long season with its physical rigors and the challenges of AFC teams like New England, Houston and Baltimore will be immense.
If he can get through those teams, he will find a team like the Bears (one can hope) waiting for him in the Super Bowl.
He’s got a puncher’s chance, but he’ll have to prove he can take a few shots along the way.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.