When talking about the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, there may be only one name above Peyton Manning. The University of Tennessee legend had carved out a historic career while playing for the Indianapolis Colts before ultimately transitioning to the Denver Broncos.
Manning didn’t have a long career in Denver, but he made the most of his time there. With so many epic moments in so little time, we narrowed things down to the five best moments Manning ever had.
Peyton in Denver
It may have felt like longer, but Manning only spent four seasons in Denver. By the time his final season rolled around, neck issues had sapped him of his arm strength and turned him into a shell of the quarterback we had come to know. Still, he had some incredible moments as a Bronco.
Topping Tom: 2013 AFC Title Game
To that point, the rivalry between Manning and Tom Brady had been epic. Brady had mostly gotten his way, but Manning had his moments. Manning topped a great 2012 by winning his fifth MVP in 2013, breaking the single season passing yardage (5,477) and touchdowns record (55) along the way.
Heading into the 2013 AFC Championship Game, the last thing the Broncos wanted was to cap off a historic season with a loss to their rivals. Manning made sure that wouldn’t happen, throwing for an even 400 yards on the day.
He formed an epic connection with Demaryius Thomas, connecting with him seven times for 134 yards and a touchdown. The loss to the Baltimore Ravens the year before was in the rearview mirror and Super Bowl XLVIII would be the first appearance for the team since Super Bowl XXIII.
What's your favorite Peyton Manning moment in Denver?
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) March 24, 2023
The 2012 Chargers Comeback
Manning had a great first year in Denver in 2012. They would finish as the top seed in the AFC playoffs that year. Even still, the first several weeks of the year were a little rougher than expected. With a crucial game against the San Diego Chargers before the Week 7 bye, the Broncos needed a win.
Sitting at 2-3, a loss would be devastating. The Broncos tangled with the Chargers on Monday Night Football. Down 24-0 at halftime, it seemed like the Broncos would be staring at an abysmal 2-4 record heading into the bye week.
Manning took over in the second half, throwing three touchdowns to lead a comeback. At the time, it was tied for the fourth-biggest comeback in regular-season NFL history. The win was massive heading into the bye. Not only that, it provided the momentum that led to the Broncos winning out the final 10 games.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) February 5, 2023
Breaking Major Single Season Records
We talked about it above, but you can’t possibly overhype the season Manning had in 2013. What’s funny is that it wasn’t even the first time that Manning had set the single season record for touchdown passes. He did that in 2004 when he threw 49 touchdowns to pass Dan Marino’s 48-touchdown effort.
Brady would best that in 2007 with an incredible 50, but that wasn’t all we heard out of Manning. Manning would not only best that mark but do it with a ton of time left. In Week 16, he threw his 51st touchdown pass – among the four he had on the day – to break the record.
The funny part about that throw to Demaryius Thomas is that the latter didn’t even know it was the record-setter until he sat down on the bench. Manning cemented his status as one of the all-time greats with the most dominant passing season there has ever been.
Going Out on Top
Despite all of their successes, the Broncos had not managed to win the big one. They made it to the Super Bowl in 2013, only to be absolutely destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks in every single way. By the time 2015 rolled around, Manning didn’t look like himself anymore.
Manning was dealing with a plantar fascia injury and didn’t get into the action until midway through the season. Even then, he didn’t look like the Manning of old, throwing a much slower ball than we had grown accustomed to. Even still, the Broncos were great, taking the top seed in the AFC.
The defense was the catalyst, but Manning did just enough to win. In the Super Bowl, he threw for 141 yards. Even still, he became the first quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl with two different teams. It was the final year of his Broncos tenure, but he went out John Elway-style before riding off into the sunset.
Expectations fell short when the team lost in double-overtime to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional game in 2012. Guess who the first game on the docket for was the 2013 season. Manning and company would not have to wait long to exact revenge, and revenge they got.
Manning went OFF in the game. Throwing for three or four touchdowns would be incredible. Five would be unreal. Six would be historic. Manning said, “To hell with that,” and threw a whopping seven touchdown passes against the Ravens that night.
He became the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw seven touchdown passes in a game, the first instance since the Vikings’ Joe Kapp did so against the Baltimore Colts in 1969 (poor Baltimore). That was the tone-setter for what would become the most historic passing season in league history. Manning has had a lot of memorable moments, but that 7-touchdown effort against a great team like the Ravens – who won the Super Bowl the year prior – lives up there forever.
Manning may have only played four years with the Denver Broncos, but he left an indelible mark on the franchise.
An MVP, a record-breaking season, and a Super Bowl championship is a pretty good way to finish out a career and leave a mark on one of the most successful franchises in the game.