A lot of Broncos fans shrugged off Peyton Manning's first interception of the preseason against the Chicago Bears. And plenty of those boosters are also writing off the two additional picks he threw in his second outing, a 30-10 Seattle Seahawks victory in Denver. But should they be? After all, the second toss, in particular, suggests that more than rust was at play.
The game started out ugly for the Broncos on the offensive side of the ball. After an early three-and-out in which two failed running plays sandwiched an effective pass to Joel Dreessen, Manning was handed a gift courtesy of David Bruton, a special teams monster whose partial block of a Seahawks punt gave Denver possession at the Seattle 24 -- and he took advantage with a fifteen-yard completion to Eric Decker. But on the next play, he hucked the pigskin into the giant paws of Red Bryant, leading to a deflection grab by the 'Hawks' K.J. Wright that killed the mini-drive on the doorstep.
Because this apparently bad play by Manning can just as easily be interpreted as a fine one by Bryant, it's tough to judge the gaffe too harshly. But that's not the case with interception number two. In that instance, Manning tried to hit Eric Decker on a longish heave during which the hunky receiver was surrounded by not one, not two, not three but four Seahawks -- and when the ball sailed on him by yards, not feet, Seattle's Jeron Jackson was able to haul in the catch looking more like a punt returner than a defender.
Yeah, yeah, these things happen, particularly during preseason. But given the type of coverage on Decker, Manning's decision to throw the pass in the first place was highly dubious. Only pinpoint accuracy would have given the Broncos a chance for success, and this description definitely didn't apply.
Manning was able to pull off this kind of trick earlier in his career, but he was doing so with less frequency even before the neck injury that put him on the shelf for more than a season. Which raises these two questions: Is Manning deluding himself into thinking he hasn't suffered a deterioration of skills that's entirely natural for veteran quarterbacks? And if so, will he continue to make mistakes by trying to make risky throws he might have managed in 1999 but has little chance of pulling off in 2012?
Such matters are likely to dominate the Peyton conversation during the early part of the season. Manning looks solid in most respects, and he shook off his first real hit of the campaign, courtesy of Bruce Irvin, with no apparent ill effects. But if he can't adjust his game to match his current physical abilities, the Broncos may be looking at a lot more scoring opportunities that die in the arms of a rival defender.
Here's a highlight reel of Manning's night.
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