Sports

Hartnett: Always One Step Ahead, Peyton Manning Is Showing No Signs Of Stopping

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks downfield during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Noah Graham/Getty Images)

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks downfield during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Noah Graham/Getty Images)

By Sean Hartnett
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Peyton Manning already has the Denver Broncos’ high-octane offense clicking at midseason form.

On Sunday, the Broncos shut out the San Francisco 49ers 34-0 in the Niners’ brand-new home of Levi’s Stadium. Manning completed 12 of 14 passes for 102 yards and threw one touchdown in two series of work.

This is the second of back-to-back preseason weeks in which Manning has toyed with an elite defense. Last week, Manning picked apart the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Manning completed 10 of 13 passes for 78 yards in the Super Bowl XLVIII rematch.

It never gets tiresome watching the commanding Manning operate the most sophisticated offense with clockwork precision.

Pre-snap, Manning directs teammates like the conductor of an orchestra. He scans the field, shouting out audibles in an attempt to get an indicator from the defense. It’s the way an ace poker player is able to elicit a “tell” from an opponent across the table.

Manning will throw off defenses with elaborate audibles and dummy calls. Forget about “Omaha! Omaha!” It means opposite. “Louisville Soul Train,” “Apple, Apple,” “Japan,” “Heidi,” “Sally,” “Bacon,” “Kool-Aid,” “Hot Sauce” — it’s all part of his elaborate and almost indecipherable language. He even throws in an occasional shout of “Papa John’s.” Manning owns 21 Papa John’s franchises in Colorado.

He’ll identify the blitzer and call for a protection change. Once the ball is snapped into Manning’s hands, he goes to work with surgical accuracy. Zip, zip, zip … Manning gets rid of the ball at a league-best 2.33 seconds. He proceeds to hit receivers in their palms and marches the Broncos down field. Befuddled opponents keep on guessing.

At 38, Manning is showing absolutely zero evidence of decline. He stands alone at the mountaintop of NFL QBs.

In all likelihood, Manning will surpass Brett Favre’s career record of 508 passing touchdowns near the midway point of the 2014 season. Manning will enter the upcoming season with 491 career passing TDs to his name.

Unlike legendary QBs of yesteryear such as Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, the modern quarterback is able to maintain a high level of play into his late 30s and beyond.

Favre remained a great quarterback at the age of 40, enjoying a 33-touchdown and seven-interception season for the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. His 1.3 interception percentage was the lowest of his 16-year career.

Last season, Manning smashed the NFL record book. The Broncos scored a record 606 points. Manning set a new single-season record by tossing 55 touchdown passes, surpassing Tom Brady’s 2007 total of 50 TDs. His 5,477 yards thrown edged Drew Brees’ previous record of 5,476 set in 2011.

There has been chatter of Manning throwing an increased number of “wobbly ducks” with age. Yes, he’s lost some heat on his fastball. But does that really matter? Peyton’s brain is always one step ahead of everyone on the gridiron. No. 18 keeps the chains moving like no one else in his profession.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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