Jack Dempsey/Associated Press file photo
Here’s one that won’t come as a surprise: Peyton Manning writes down his New Year’s resolutions on index cards.
“My dad, since I was a kid, he’s been telling us, ‘Write them down,’” Manning said.
Though he refused to divulge what’s on those cards or what his lifetime success rate has been with those resolutions, he hasn’t left much doubt about what his day-to-day goals on the football field were for 2012, the year of his comeback.
Work hard. Improve. Keep building chemistry.
Those are the only ways to get to the ultimate goal – winning the Super Bowl, which is something Manning and the Denver Broncos now are favored to do.
Yet to hear Manning tell it, even if the Broncos do win it all, there still will be room for improvement – quite a tall task for a quarterback who compiled some of the best numbers of his career and a team that finished tied for the league’s best record at 13-3.
“I’m not sure you can do it all in one season,” Manning said Wednesday, after the Broncos, the AFC’s top-seeded team, practiced for the first time during their bye week. “I think we’ve done a good job of being the best that we possibly can in this short period of time.”
What began as a season of mystery for Manning – How would his body react after missing more than a year with the neck injury? How would his new teammates respond to him? – has turned into one of his very best campaigns.
He threw 400 completions for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, completed 68.6 percent of his passes and finished with a 105.8 passer rating – all franchise records and ranked second best of the 14 years he’s played in the NFL.
He is in the mix for his fifth Most Valuable Player award, votes for which are being counted this week. On Wednesday, he received his second AFC offensive player of the week honor this year. It marked the 23rd time he’s received that over his career, tied with Tom Brady for most ever.
“To be able to come out and participate like he’s done, to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it’s unbelievable,” receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “He had an injury that not many people come back from.”
His latest award came on the strength of a 23-for-29, 304-yard, three-touchdown game against Kansas City on Sunday. The highlights were his touchdowns to Eric Decker and Thomas, who stretched out (in Decker’s case) or up (in Thomas’ case) to make one-handed grabs on balls Manning put in places where only they, and not the defensive backs covering them, could catch them.
Were they passes he would’ve thrown to those receivers in Week 1?
“Probably would have thrown them earlier, not sure if we would’ve completed them,” Manning said. “It’s hard to say. But there’s no question, it would be just downright disappointing if we had not improved throughout the season.”
Manning, however, doesn’t judge improvement simply on completions or any other numbers on the stat sheet.
It’s a much more intangible thing to him.
Take the touchdowns against Kansas City. Manning said neither he nor the receivers had seen the kind of coverage the Chiefs were in on those plays until Sunday, the last week of the NFL season. The next time they see it, though, they’ll have a readymade reference point.
“So if you play together long enough, then you can say, ‘Hey, remember Kansas City in 2012? Remember that? Oh, yeah,’” Manning said. “I’m not going to have that much eligibility to be able to refer back too long, but those guys certainly will. It’s been kind of like cramming for a test, and I think both of those guys have put in the time to cram, and we’ve really worked hard in the short time we’ve had together.”
In fact, it’s the chemistry he’s built with Thomas, Decker and the rest of the receivers that Manning lists as one of his most pleasant surprises this season.
“The rapport with the receivers has come probably quicker than I thought,” he said. “I really didn’t know on some of the timing routes, some of the adjustments and things.”
It’s not to say flaws don’t exist, but “I don’t think it makes any sense to reveal those things with a game coming up.”
Indeed, it’s now time to make the best of the hand they’ve got.
In Denver’s case, it’s a pretty good hand.
“There are still things that I wish would be better, and I think you kind of have to pick and choose your battles,” Manning said. “It’s, ‘Hey, we’ve only had 16 games together, we’re not going to be able to fix that. But let’s try to get really good at this. Let’s be as good as we can at that.’ Some things just take time.”