ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peyton Manning is off to a bad start statistically. Standings-wise, things couldn’t be better.
A league-high 10 of his passes have ended up in the wrong hands. With just seven TD throws, he’s in the midst of his worst season since his error-prone rookie year in 1998.
Manning may be struggling but he hasn’t lost any of his luster. In a sign of how big this next game is, lower-level 50-yard line tickets were being offered on the secondary market Wednesday for as much as $3,334 each.
One reason is that Manning has engineered five crunch-time drives, so Sunday night’s showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers is a battle of 6-0 teams.
“I think that you make an excellent point with the crunch time,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Peyton is a Hall of Fame quarterback and that’s what we’re preparing for. ... He’s running a new offense and so forth, but he looks fine to me.”
Especially in the hurry-up, two-minute drill, when Manning reverts to being a rhythm passer, said Tony Dungy, his former coach and current NBC commentator.
“It’s strange to see them go 25 drives without scoring a touchdown and to see 22 incompletions in one game,” Dungy said. “That’s something I’m not used to seeing. I can look at it and some of it is timing and not having the chemistry with the receivers, running a little bit different offense.
“Some of it is his balls not coming off his hand well. I see enough pros in the money situations where they need them. It seems like, especially in the two-minute situations and in crunch time, when they’re playing up-tempo, you see better rhythm.”
Both teams are coming off bye weeks that followed close calls.
Green Bay surrendered 500 yards passing to Philip Rivers but prevailed 27-20 at Lambeau Field, their fourth home victory, and the Broncos escaped Cleveland with a 26-23 win in overtime, their fourth road win of the young season.
It was Manning’s 53rd career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, by far the most in NFL history and 13 more than his boss, John Elway, engineered during his Hall of Fame career.
“I know when the game’s on the line he goes back to the things that he does well and he executes and we all get on one accord and he puts the ball on the money,” receiver Bubba Caldwell said. “We know he plays at a high level at all times but it just seems to come out the most at the end.”
The Broncos point to positive things that don’t show up in box scores or fantasy football stat sheets that only true gridiron junkies can appreciate, such as receiver Cody Latimer’s run-springing blocks on defensive ends or running back C.J. Anderson’s blitz pickups that helped them beat the Browns.
And, of course, coming up big in the two-minute drills.
“I mean, we find a way when the time is needed,” Anderson said. “The whole thing about that is playing it for 60 minutes instead of those last two minutes.”
The Broncos found their long-lost ground game in Cleveland, rushing for 152 yards, including 33 on the game-winning drive in overtime.
“We all rally,” Anderson said. “We all tell ourselves before that drive hey we’ve got to get this together. When we have to put a drive together, it doesn’t matter who’s in the game, we’re going to make the play. That’s how we feel. That’s just the fight in us.”
Anderson said the Broncos’ ground game looks even better coming off the bye week now that the embattled O-line is back together on the field — the starters had only practiced together twice in the last month because of injuries.
“Monday was a really good day,” Anderson said. “We know how great our defense is, so if we can move the ball against them, we can move the ball against anybody.”
Manning, whose passer rating of 72.5 is his lowest since the 71.2 mark he had his rookie year in 1998, said Wednesday that he’s not satisfied with his play and the offense needs to start pulling its weight.
“Hey, I want to play better every single week and I promise like all my teammates we’re out here working hard, we’re trying to get better and we want to do our part,” Manning said. “We know we need to play better, especially starting this week against Green Bay. Our defense has their hands full. Green Bay’s going to make some plays offensively. We’ve got to do our part to score some points.”