The best first seasons in Broncos history: No. 1 – Peyton Manning

Jul 22, 2022, 2:08 PM

Peyton Manning...

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

It seems hard to believe now, but Peyton Manning’s smashing success in Denver was not a forgone conclusion.

Not when he arrived in March 2012 still learning how to throw without feeling in his fingertips. And certainly not at moments early in the season.

Two weeks into the year, Manning had as many interceptions as touchdowns — 3 apiece. Those picks came in a disastrous start to the Broncos’ Week 2 game in Atlanta. Each of Denver’s first three possessions ended in an INT. Each came on an attempt down the right seam.

That said, the critiques of Manning during the first few weeks of what would be a terrific season reached the point of absurdity. The fact that Manning succeeded cult hero Tim Tebow didn’t help.

(Coming in hot with the “Bolen” spelling of the late Broncos owner’s surname.)

But then-coach John Fox wasn’t concerned.

“He’s been the least of my worries,” Broncos coach John Fox said in October 2012. “He’s performed very well over the last four weeks. I think he’s just going to get better and better.”

And by November, any such thought was in the rear-view mirror. The Broncos sat comfortably in first place in the AFC West, well on their way to an 11-game winning streak that was the franchise’s longest in 14 years. And Manning was back to his old, dominant self.

After throwing three interceptions on his first eight passes in Atlanta, Manning had just one in his next 250 attempts. Meanwhile, the touchdown passes accumulated — 16 in that same span.

By midseason, Manning had 20 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions, 5 300-yard games and a 106.4 passer rating.

In short, he was back. And he made everyone around him better.

Demaryius Thomas was en route to the Pro Bowl and the first of four consecutive seasons with at least 1,300 receiving yards. Just five players all-time have more 1,300-plus receiving seasons than Thomas accumulated — all with Manning at the helm.

Eric Decker would hit 1,000 yards for the first time, too. He also led the Broncos with 13 touchdown receptions. Ryan Clady returned to first-team All-Pro status for the first time in three years. At age 36, Brandon Stokley had his most productive season in five years.

“We see him doing stuff and we just do it because of what he does,” Thomas said in December 2012. “I think it’s just us doing it because we want to be like him.

“If you follow somebody like Peyton, you can be good in the league.”

The signature moment came at San Diego in Week 6 on Monday Night Football.

Trailing 24-0 at halftime, the cool Manning sizzled, helping spur the Broncos to 35 unanswered points. The defense, rallied by Manning’s exploits, generated two touchdowns in a 35-24 win. To this day, that remains the Broncos’ biggest rally — along with the Craig Morton-led comeback from a 34-10 deficit on Sept. 23, 1979.

When the Broncos trailed, Manning stood unfazed.

“Very calm, very confident,” Decker said at the time. “As a team, as a unit, that creates an identity, and it really builds with everybody. We know that we can score every play, every time we touch the ball.”

For the next two years, the Broncos would do just that.

But the less said about the divisional-round loss to Baltimore, the better.

With 31 seconds left in regulation and the game still tied after Joe Flacco’s 70-yard heave to Jacoby Jones over Rahim Moore’s outstretched arm, Fox opted to take a knee and play for overtime rather than give Manning and the prolific offense one final shot with two timeouts and a kicker proven to have range to 60 yards and beyond.

But that double-overtime defeat didn’t dull the shine on Manning’s first season. He earned first-team All-Pro honors and returned to the Pro Bowl. His comeback from neck surgeries was complete.

And the best would be yet to come.

That’s the standard Russell Wilson has in front of him in his first Denver campaign. Meet Manning’s start, and the Broncos will be — at worst — in contention for their ninth AFC championship and fourth Super Bowl.





Frank Clark...

Andrew Mason

Why the Broncos felt they needed Frank Clark

At edge rusher, the Broncos have concerns about injuries and depth. They needed another veteran. To that end, they opted for Clark.

5 hours ago

Garett Bolles and Russell Wilson...

Andrew Mason

Garett Bolles says Russell Wilson will make critics ‘eat crow’ this season

"I was angry with everything that came out," Bolles said, standing up to protect his quarterback at Broncos OTAs.

1 day ago

Baron Browning...

Cecil Lammey

Orange and Blue Today – June 8th 2023

In This Episode: Cecil Lammey and Andrew Mason discuss the latest news and notes for the Denver Broncos. Topics Include: why the injury to EDGE Baron Browning perhaps led to the signing of Frank Clark, are the Broncos going to land RB Dalvin Cook, updates from OTAs, plus more! Follow @CecilLammey

1 day ago

Sean Payton...


Broncos embracing Sean Payton’s no-nonsense, detailed approach

With another week of OTAs in the book, it became clear that the Broncos players are happy to have a new head coach setting a standard

1 day ago

Frank Clark...

Andrew Mason

Breaking: Broncos sign edge rusher Frank Clark

The Broncos signed former Chiefs and Seahawks edge rusher Frank Clark to a 1-year deal, bringing aboard a 3-time Pro Bowler.

1 day ago

Dalvin Cook...

Will Petersen

Report: Broncos will be a frontrunner in Dalvin Cook sweepstakes

Cook would obviously be a major splash for Denver, as he's been one of the best and most consistent backs in the NFL for years

1 day ago

The best first seasons in Broncos history: No. 1 – Peyton Manning