Before this season, it was all but a foregone conclusion that if the Broncos found their way to postseason play, Manning would be behind center, making his trademark audibles and lobbing touchdowns.
However, as the 2015 season passed and Manning struggled to complete throws, stay healthy and even hold onto his starting job, it looked as though the final days of his storied career had finally arrived.
Instead, accolades, praise and NFL records were piled upon the 39-year-old quarterback as he led his team to its third Super Bowl win in franchise history.
Here’s a game-by-game look at the roller coaster of a season that was for one of the all-time greats.
Week 1: Broncos 19, Ravens 13
The 2015 season opener was certainly not the start that Manning had hoped for and offered a bit of foreshadowing for the difficult season that was to come. For the first time in a decade, Manning failed to open up the season with a touchdown pass, finishing 24 for 40 passing with 175 and an interception. The interception was the first for Manning during a season opener since 2009. The Broncos had to rely on a defense that has been one of the stalwarts of the NFL to come away with the victory, as defensive back Aqib Talib scored the only Denver touchdown.
Week 2: Broncos 31, Chiefs 24
Manning followed up his poor performance in Week 1 with a game that, at least for the moment, got rid of some chatter that the veteran was no longer a capable NFL starter. Manning finished the game 26 for 45 passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns, none bigger than the 19-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders that tied the game at 24–24 with 36 seconds left. Manning could not be called sharp, throwing a pick-six in the second quarter. However, he made enough plays to put Bradley Roby in position to win the game on a shocking 21-yard fumble return touchdown with nine seconds left.
Week 3: Broncos 24, Lions 12
In what was likely his best performance of the season, a vintage Peyton Manning gave the Lions defense fits throughout the game. Manning completed 31 of 42 passes with two touchdowns and an interception. His passer rating of 101.7 was the first time he had eclipsed the 100-point mark since Week 15 of 2014 and the only time he accomplished that feat this season. Manning’s big play of the game was a 45-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with five seconds left in the first half.
Week 4: Broncos 23, Vikings 20
Manning lead a 55-yard, nine-play drive to put the Broncos in position for a 39-yard field goal with 1:51 remaining that gave Denver the win. Still, the Broncos defense and run game had to be credited with the win in a game where Manning threw two interceptions, directly leading to 10 points for the Vikings. Manning finished the game 17 for 27 with 213 yards and a touchdown.
Week 5: Broncos 16, Raiders 10
For the second time through the first five games of the season, Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass and simply looked like a different player on the field. He also threw two interceptions, both grabbed by fellow 39-year-old Charles Woodson. At this point, Manning had more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six).
Week 6: Broncos 26, Browns 23
Once again the Broncos found a way to pull out a win, despite Manning going through one of the worst stretches of play in his career. Manning was picked off three times by the Browns defense, bringing his interception total over the last three games to seven. In the end, Manning was able to orchestrate one drive when it mattered, leading his offense from its own 12 to the Browns 16, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Week 8: Broncos 29, Packers 10
Manning left the game without a touchdown pass on the stat sheet, but on a day where the Broncos offense looked as efficient as any point in the season, the quarterback had very little to complain about. Manning completed 21 of 29 passes for a season-high 340 yards, balancing out a rush attack that put up 160 yards and three touchdowns. For the first time in 2015, the undefeated Broncos actually looked dominant, and Manning walked away with his 186th regular-season win, tying Brett Favre’s record.
Week 9: Colts 27, Broncos 24
Manning’s return to Indianapolis was anything but sweet, as a late interception ended the hopes of an undefeated season and kept the regular-season wins record at bay. Manning completed 21 of 36 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions loomed large in the loss to a Colts teams in turmoil. With the Broncos trailing by three and 6:06 left on the clock, Manning had his pass to Thomas picked off at the Denver 49. The Denver offense would never get another chance to score, as the Colts ran the last six minutes off the clock.
Week 10: Chiefs 29, Broncos 13
Manning broke NFL career passing yards record early, but any excitement from this milestone was quickly dashed as he put together the worst performance in his career and the Chiefs simply ran through Denver. Battling through a sore shoulder, bruised ribs and an injured foot, Manning completed just five of 20 passes and watched as four of his passes ended up in the hands of Chiefs defenders. Manning was eventually pulled for Brock Osweiler, and even though head coach Gary Kubiak said that Manning would be his starter moving forward, many believed that this could be their last time seeing Manning on the field.
On Nov. 16, the Broncos announced that Manning hard torn the plantar fascia in his foot, with ESPN’s Chris Mortenson later reporting that he wasn't expected to be healthy any time soon.
Week 17: Broncos 27, Chargers 20
Coming into the final week of the season, there was uncertainty that Manning would be ready to return from his plantar fascia injury. However, Manning had been upgraded to full in practice by Thursday and Kubiak made the decision that future hall of famer would be Osweiler’s backup. That backup role lasted all of two quarters, as Manning replaced Osweiler in the third quarter and proved to be the cataylst in the win. Osweiler’s bad luck—his two interceptions came of tipped balls and his teammates lost three fumbles while he was in the game—turned into the comeback story for Manning. He completed just five of nine passes for 69 yards, but the offense scored 20 points with Manning on the field.
Three days after the win, Manning was named the starting quarterback for the playoffs.
Divisional round: Broncos 23, Steelers 16
After a first-round bye, Denver opened its playoff run against the Steelers. Pittsburgh was without its top two rushers (LeVeon Bell and DeAngelo Williams) and top receiver (Antonio Brown) but still managed to make it a close game. Manning threw for 222 yards while completing 21 of his 37 pass attempts. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
AFC Championship Game: Broncos 20, Patriots 18
Manning prevailed in his 17th matchup against Tom Brady and advanced to his fourth Super Bowl. Manning threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns as Denver’s defense harassed Tom Brady. Manning also had 11 yards rushing, including 12-yard scramble for a first down. The run was Manning’s longest in the postseason since his first playoff appearance and his first rushing attempt for positive yardage since 2006.
Super Bowl 50: Broncos 24, Panthers 10
Manning’s performance in Super Bowl 50 wasn’t the best of his four championship appearances, but he conjured up enough offense to overpower the favored Panthers and secure the title. Manning completed 13 of 23 passes for 141 yards with no interceptions and two fumbles, again relying heavily on the Denver defense in the win. After the game, Manning declined to say whether he will retire, though his mother expressed her desire for her son to hang up his cleats and his father suggested Peyton’s playing days could be over.