January 5, 2013

NFL PLAYOFFS: Manning has made all the Broncos better

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway insisted that every one of the Denver Broncos was better the second Peyton Manning put his signature on that nearly $100 million contract last spring.

Indeed, all have prospered from the arrival of the meticulous quarterback whose work ethic generated, as coach John Fox also predicted, a lifting of all boats.

Teammates on both sides of the ball are better. So are the coaches. Heck, even the team’s ticket sellers and concessionaries have upped their games.

While Manning was turning what began as a season of mystery into one of magnificence, several of his cohorts enjoyed breakout or bounce-back years as the Broncos (13-3) thundered into the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed and winners of 11 straight.

Not since Elway was leading comebacks on the football field instead of from the front office have the Broncos been the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl like they are now.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley suggests we call it, “The Manning Effect.”

Manning sets his standards so high that “it just makes the players work harder and want to do better,” said Stokley, who traded in retirement for a reunion with the four-time MVP. “With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else.”

Players see the league’s most decorated quarterback working as though he’s on the bubble to even make the team, and they take heed.

“I think when you have someone of his stature pushing himself to the ultimate level that it makes everyone push themselves to that level, too,” said Denver tight end Jacob Tamme, who also played with Manning in Indianapolis. “The fact he’s had the success he’s had but still works so hard still at this point, I think shows why he’s had the success that he’s had in the first place.”

Young receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Tony Carter) blossomed under Manning’s tutelage. Tailback Knowshon Moreno revived his career. Guard Zane Beadles broke through in his third season and linebacker Wesley Woodyard did so in his fifth. Von Miller, last year’s top defensive rookie, became a bona fide superstar, and several veterans such as Stokley looked young again.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the architect of the hybrid offense Manning ran so adroitly in putting up numbers that surpassed those from all four of his MVP seasons, is such a hot head coaching candidate that he’s holding his very own jobs fair this weekend in Denver, meeting with one team after another.

Manning helped them all do their jobs better over the last 10 months.

It all began in the spring on local high school football fields with receivers working hard at not rounding off their routes lest they get an earful from No. 18 and then at team headquarters with cornerbacks picking Manning’s brain to figure out how he was picking them apart.

It grew fast from there, the Broncos getting better and bolder by the week as the 36-year-old quarterback put to rest any lingering doubts about his health or age.

The Broncos’ offense rose from 23rd in the league last season to fourth, and Denver’s defense jumped from 20th to second. They scored 481 points a year after scoring 309. And their defense allowed 289 a year after yielding 390.

“Well, it makes you grow up faster because, for one, he’s not going to let you get away with constant mistakes,” Champ Bailey said. “Maybe one here, one over there, but the same mistakes over and over, he doesn’t want you in there. And that’s the same way on defense. You make too many mistakes, you’re not going to play.”

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