|Posted on December 23, 2013 at 12:25 AM|
Fifty five—the number you'll keep hearing about.
It's deeper though. Much deeper. Though most have undoubtedly missed it.
There's depth, lots of it—extending far beyond Peyton Manning's 55 single-season touchdown passes thrown in 15.5 games. Too easy to judge the Houston Texans blindly on their win/loss record. True, they had little chance of actually defeating the Denver Broncos. Overlooked however, was the reality that they sported the NFL's second ranked pass defense, with J.J. Watt manning the defensive line, ready to do what the Texans drafted him to do when he shared the AFC South with Manning.
Peyton was taken out that year, but not by Watt. After undergoing four next surgeries, Manning missed the entire 2011 season—turing the same Colts team that had won more games in a single decade than any team in NFL history into the worst team in all of professional football. The Colts were in luck as Manning's absense exposed their alarming level of ineptitude sans their former savior, granting them the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. Disappointingly, Andrew Luck posted a scoreless QBS in his rookie season and appears poised to do the same by the conclusion of 2013.
Denver signed Manning, who took home First Team All-Pro honors in 2012—finishing second in the MVP voting to Adrian Peterson. He broke all of the Broncos' notable single-season passing records and took a team that ranked 31st in passing in 2011 to another stratosphere. Receivers Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker had never been productive in their entire careers, sporting 0.0 'wide receiver scores' prior to Manning's arrival. Many cried for Denver to sign a free agent with at least some history of NFL-level productivity but the Broncos rolled the dice hoping that Manning could turn non-productive targets into respectable receivers.
- In Thomas' first season with Manning, his production saw a drastic increase that exceeded the single season rate of one, Jerry Rice.
- In Decker's first season with Manning, he caught more touchdowns than Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss and Andre Johnson combined.
To throw 37 touchdown passes to a supporting cast that had absolutely no history of being productive was astounding. It could be argued that distributing 37 touchdown passes under those circumstances may have even been more impressive than the 49 that he threw to a group that included Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
37 proved to be the magic number—but not in respects to touchdowns.
Manning began the 2013 season at 37 years of age. After re-claiming his spot as the best quarterback in professonal football the year prior, it was expected that Manning would perform at a high level this year. The Broncos added Wes Welker in free agency—a solid addition, but not in respects to catching touchdowns. Welker averaged a pedestrian 6.16 touchdown receptions per-season with the New England Patriots, and that's while spending much of his time as the team's No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. How many touchdowns did the Broncos realistically expect from a guy who averaged under seven per-season as Tom Brady's go-to receiver?
Julius Thomas is another name Manning made famous. Like Demariyus Thomas, the latter never had any history of being productive at the NFL-level. In his first season with Manning, "Orange Julius" broke the Broncos' single-season tight end touchdown mark set by Pro Football Hall of Famer, Shannon Sharpe.
The question then became: "What will it take to reach 55?" The answer, prior to seeing Manning don a Broncos' uniform, would seem laughable.
All you need to do is take two receivers who have no history of being remarkably productive and help increase their productive outputs to the level of Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald. Then, take a 32-year old Wes Welker who averaged 6.8 touchdowns per-season with Tom Brady, and almost double his productive output while he's relegated to an accompanying role. Finally, take a tight end who had only one reception in his entire career and make sure he breaks the franchise touchdown record set by a Hall of Fame tight end, while missing multiple games.
Not quite. See, unlike Brady in 2007 who threw 50 touchdown passes at 30 years of age, you'll need to surpass that total at the age of 37. No quarterback your age has ever thrown more than 33 touchdown passes in a single season, so be sure to match that record, then throw 18 more.
"Can you give me a Hall of Fame touchdown machine to help catch some of those?"
Most people forget that in 2007, Randy Moss caught an NFL record 23 touchdown passes. Moss was the only receiver on the Patriots roster to catch more than eight touchdowns. In 2013, Manning has distributed ten or more touchdowns to four different receivers—breaking the previous record of three set by Peyton Manning in 2004.
"No Randy Moss to throw to? Well, at least I've got my health."
Not really. See, you're not just 37 years old Peyton—you're 37 years old coming off of four neck surgeries, with more injuries awaiting you in 2013. You're scheduled to lose multiple offensive linemen to injuries, so backups are all we really have to block for you. You'll injure your ankles so badly that they'll require heavy taping and a specialized brace to keep them functional, but you know, you've dealt with injuries before. With the weakest arm of all 32 NFL starters, you're just going to have to make it work.
"So what are you telling me?"
- Elevate the productive output of previously non-productive receivers to Jerry Rice levels?—check.
- Almost double Wes Welker's touchdown-rate while he misses multiple games with two concussions?—check.
- Help a one-reception tight end break the team touchdown record set by a Hall of Famer, while he misses time to injury too?—check.
- Age an additional seven years, come back from four neck surgeries, permanent nerve damage, and play on physically damaged ankles?—check.
- Stand behind an offensive line including backups and still find time to hit my teammates with touchdown after touchdown, 55 times?—check.
- Do so while one guy catches 23 of those touchdowns? Wait, no? Ugh, I'm going to have to "distribute."—check.
"Well Peyton has all of those weapons to throw to in Denver!" -inebriated bar-goer
There's certainly no history and no precedent to back up that label—but Manning has us thinking that receivers with no prior productive history are suddenly the NFL's best. I'm not saying that they're not good, I'm just saying that someone's bound to look good when your quarterback pumps out over 5,400 yards and 55 touchdowns.
It's one thing to break records when you're only 30 years old, with no serious history of health issues, when you have a Hall of Fame scoring machine to absorb almost half of your touchdown total, a Hall of Fame head coach to help call your plays while allowing you to run up the score and throw touchdowns in garbage time, as your Pro Bowl stacked offensive line allows you Madden-on-rookie-like time to to find an open receiver whom you can just chuck the ball to into double and triple coverages as he illegally pushes off defenders and catches the ball to bring you another touchdown closer to the record.
Even with that kind of help, Brady's 2007 season still deserves to be ranked amongst the very best in NFL history.
The record is Manning's, again, but it's the journey he took to get there that makes this season unlike anything we've ever seem before—or will ever see again.