Archie, Eli Manning proud of Peyton's evolution this season

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Archie Manning speaks deliberately and carefully when addressing whether his 39-year-old son, Peyton, might be playing his final NFL game when he returns to the Super Bowl.

''This is Peyton's fourth one - certainly could be his last one, so we're going to try to enjoy it,'' Archie Manning, who lives in New Orleans, said this week in an interview with The Associated Press.

''There's a lot of speculation that Peyton will retire. He and I haven't talked about that,'' Archie continued. ''I'm sure it's something he's going to sit down and look at when the season is over. But we'll just have to see on that. I just don't know.''

Even if Archie does know, he wouldn't necessarily say so before Peyton's Denver Broncos meet the Carolina Panthers just south of San Francisco in the 50th Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

Peyton Manning wants the Super Bowl to be about his team, not him. So the Denver QB has refused to explain what he meant when a microphone picked him up saying something about his ''last rodeo'' during a brief on-field exchange with Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the AFC title game.

Archie and his other NFL quarterback son, Eli, are clear about one thing: They're proud of the way Peyton overcame new challenges in the twilight of his career.

Peyton had a new coach, who introduced him to a new offensive system, then dealt with a painful midseason foot injury (plantar fasciitis) that undermined his effectiveness so much that he was removed from the lineup for nearly two months.

''After basically being in one offense for 18 years of your life and then changing it up - that's not easy,'' Eli Manning said, referring to Peyton's introduction to first-year Denver coach Gary Kubiak's system. ''He's adjusted to that and done well.''

While Peyton was working his way back from his foot injury, Al Jazeera America produced a report - which Peyton fervently denied - linking him to performance-enhancing human growth hormone (HGH) that was supposedly shipped to his wife by an anti-aging clinic.

''He's dealt with a lot of adversity and (I'm) proud of the way he's handled the situation,'' Eli said. Peyton ''overcame it all and now they're in the Super Bowl.''

One of Peyton's new experiences as a pro - suiting up as a backup to Brock Osweiler for the regular-season finale against San Diego.

With his team on the brink of limping into the playoffs as a fifth seed, Peyton returned to action in the second half for his first snaps since midseason. The Broncos scored on four of five possessions to secure a victory over the Chargers - and by extension, the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

''He's never come off the bench in his life,'' Archie Manning said. ''But the fact he did it four weeks ago and turned the game around is probably his biggest accomplishment.''

Indeed, the victory meant a first-round bye and all home playoff games for Denver. It gave its top-rated defense, which Manning readily credits as being the strength of the team, the benefit of lining up against opposing offenses that had to overcome the mile-high altitude and crowd noise.

For Archie, the question for Peyton this offseason won't be whether he's still good enough to keep playing. It'll be more personal than that. If anything, Archie noted, Peyton proved how effective he still can be, exhibiting wisdom, unselfishness and leadership in the way he recognized - and played to - Denver's strengths.

''He's kind of playing a different role as a quarterback, but he can do it. He's been around a long time,'' Archie Manning said. Denver has ''a great defense, so you've got to use it. You support it by trying to run the ball and have balance in their offense. But he still needs to make throws, make plays. Last week, in a championship game, he was able to make some throws.

''He's kind of wearing a little different hat out there, but that's fine,'' Archie added. ''There are a lot of ways to play the quarterback position.''

Archie said he expects Peyton to consult him about his NFL future, but stresses, ''I'm not going to be the final say.''

''He's almost 40 years old. He's always made good decisions,'' the elder Manning said. ''But I'm kind of one to lay things out, the pluses and the minuses. So we'll do that and see what happens.''

Like his father, Eli Manning stops short of predicting his older brother will walk off the field in the Golden State and into his ''golden years'' of retirement. But he hardly ruled it out on a conference call hosted by the Giants this week.

''I kind of think like everybody else, where you see this as possibly being the last game,'' Eli Manning said. ''I don't know if he knows himself, or if he's thought about it. When you get to Year 19 and kind of deal with some injuries and things going on, it'd be a good way to go out.

''I hope that he can win this game - and if he decides to hang it up, go out on top.''

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