It's pretty tough to beat Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos wherever you play them these days. But there are certain elements that have befuddled Manning through the years -- he used to have specific issues with 3-4 defenses, and never been a great cold-weather quarterback ... or, at least, that's the common perception. According to ESPN's Stats & Info, Manning's teams have lost seven of the 10 regular-season and postseason games in which the temperature was 32 degrees or colder. He has thrown 12 interceptions in those games to 11 touchdowns, his completion percentage is 59.4 in those games (career percentage: 65.4), and his 214.1 yards per game total is quite a bit below his career average of 269.5.
It's an important issue at this point, because the forecast for the Broncos' Sunday home game against the Tennessee Titans is 16 degrees and a chance of snow. The team has been practicing in its bubble this week, because the temperatures have been pretty ridiculous, and will continue to be -- seven degrees on Thursday, 15 on Friday, 17 on Saturday.
That's a slight warming trend, but not enough for those who believe that Manning is not an effective quarterback in cold weather.
Among those who would disagree, of course, is Manning himself. And he doesn't really feel like talking too much about it.
“I don’t,” he said Wednesday, when asked if he feels that he's a different player in colder weather.
But does he play differently in colder weather? “That’s not how I feel.”
Alrighty then. Manning has made concessions to both the changes in weather and the changes to his body after the neck and shoulder injuries that kept him out for the entire 2011 season. He now wears a series of gloves on his throwing hand, based on conditions -- something that Kurt Warner also did to great effect at the end of his career, and something Ben Roethlisberger often goes to in cold-weather games. Peyton's nemesis Tom Brady, like many quarterbacks now, will use a glove on the non-throwing hand for grip as the temperatures drop.
“It’s just part of the adjustment I’ve kind of had to make," Manning said of the gloves. "I’ve had to make a lot of changes in this point in my career. I’m kind of coming off an injury and different team. It’s just been part of the adjustment so I don’t know what game changer really means exactly, but it’s part of the adjustment that I’ve made and tried to adjust and still working through it kind of each time that I wear it.”
If you'd like a more ... eloquent defense of Manning as a cold-weather thrower, we give you Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
“I’ve only been around him two years, but the thing that probably pisses me off more than anything is the fact that I don’t want anybody else as my quarterback. I’m going to go in with him every Sunday and it’s a great feeling to have. When you have him back there, you know your chances of winning are pretty good. When you don't have a guy like that, and I've been in that spot a lot, and that sucks. So, I'll take [Manning] any day of the week.''”
Well, most of us would, and certainly in a neutral environment. During his two seasons in Denver, Manning has played in two cold-weather games -- last season's divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and this season's overtime loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 24. He completed 19 of 36 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against New England, and 28 of 43 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against Baltimore.
As head coach John Fox said on Wednesday, the Broncos could have just as easily won either or both of those games -- and then, the talk about Manning in the cold would not reverberate in the same way.
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"I told our team—you know, in the New England game, I was impressed how our guys dealt with it," Fox recalled. "Did it end up right? No. We lost a turnover battle and that had more to do with it than weather. I thought that we showed some grittiness. I saw some good things about that and I think that experience can help you down the road.”
Gase, for his part, insisted that he doesn't make a game plan (or consult with Manning about Manning's game plan) any differently based on temperature.
“I’ve never really asked him about it. It’s something we don’t really get into. I know if it’s a windy condition game, I might, in my head, think we should run the ball more just so I’m not putting the fact that we’re throwing the ball—and then an element of the game can affect our passing game. But for the most part, the cold is not an issue for us in the passing game. It’s anytime you get a condition of wind, that’s when I see that it’s hard for the passing because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Manning knows what's going to happen to a degree, because Tennessee's defense is impressive no matter the weather. It's another tough challenge for the Broncos as they try to wrap up the top seed in the AFC playoffs. And as far as anyone on this team is concerned, that's the important subject -- not whether their quarterback dissolves in certain elements. Of course, there's one best way for Manning to end all that talk.