The Ravens were possibly rid of Peyton Manning.
The All-Pro quarterback’s career was threatened by a neck injury. Then he was released by the Indianapolis Colts, free to sign anywhere (even the NFC).
But Manning landed in Denver. And Denver landed on the Ravens’ schedule this year.
Now Manning’s eight-game winning streak versus Baltimore has simply carried over to another team.
On Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will face the same old Manning with the same offense, just in a different uniform.
“From watching them early in the season to now, to me, it’s now like watching the Indianapolis Colts all over again,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said.
“Some of the runs and things might be different and some of the names might be different, but there are an awful lot of similarities.”
Manning still operates his up-tempo, spread-out offense full of audibles at the line of scrimmage that add another mental element to the game. He still goes over every facet of the game with his teammates on the sideline, from routes to blocking.
He has capable wide receivers on the outside in Demaryius Thomas, who is fifth in the league in receiving yards (1,197), and Eric Decker. He brought along tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley from his days in Indianapolis.
Over the course of the season, Manning has molded the young players (outside of Stokley) into one of the league’s top attacks. Denver averages the second-most points per game in the league (28.8), and has put up 30 or more points in eight of its wins.
“He’s doing a good job of building the offense,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Not only is the offense the same, Manning himself is back to his usual ways after sitting out all of last season due to multiple neck surgeries.
There were questions this offseason about whether Manning would ever be the same. His arm strength was particularly put under the microscope.
After signing with the Broncos in blockbuster fashion this offseason, he’s proven his doubters wrong.
Manning’s back in Most Valuable Player talks, and is sixth in passing yards (3,812), second in touchdowns (29) and fourth in quarterback rating (104.0) in the NFL.
Pees said he’s still as accurate as ever and still controls the tempo of the game, and thus the opposing team’s defense. Harbaugh said Manning seems like he is still getting better too.
“He’s still Peyton Manning,” Reed said. “That’s the reason why they’ve won, what the last eight games or something like that? Peyton still throws the ball well, he still gets the ball to his playmakers.”
Manning sidestepped a question about the reason for his eight-game winning streak against the Ravens. He is 8-2 all-time versus Baltimore because he lost his first two meetings.
“Those are team wins and different teams, different players playing in those games,” Manning said.
But while the faces and names around him are different, Manning’s not. He’s the player that makes the Denver Broncos tick.
Asked what makes Manning so dangerous, Reed had a simple answer.
“The most deadly part of Peyton is that he gets the ball every play,” he said.