Historically, Peyton Manning has not fared well against the New England Patriots, going 5-11 in his career. He has, however, won his last two AFC Championship showdowns against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
So, can Manning, 39, dig down, find the fountain of youth, and lead the Broncos to a victory over the Patriots this Sunday to reach Super Bowl 50?
“I think he can, (but) personally, I don’t see it happening – only because you’re going to have to play mistake-free football,” former All-Pro NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Peyton Manning might be ready to come and play and do just enough for them to win, and that defense is obviously going to be great enough to go out and win a football game. But if those other players – those six or seven dropped passes they had last game – if they do that, they will guarantee lose this game. They won’t sneak past like they did with the Steelers and hope that a fumble happens at the end of the game or the Patriots make a mistake because that’s not going to happen. That’s not Belichick football. That’s not Patriots football.
“What needs to happen,” Merriman continued, “ is if Peyton Manning doesn’t go out and turn the ball over, and that defense plays great, and they find couple guys to step up on offense outside of Peyton Manning and make a big play, then they have a possibility of winning. But Peyton Manning said it’s not a Peyton-versus-Tom-Brady game; this is a Denver-Broncos-versus-Patriots game. The Broncos are going to need more than just Peyton Manning and that defense to win. They need some offensive playmakers to step up and make some things happen.”
Manning, of course, has had to rely more on this mental game than his physical game in recent years. Interesting enough, though, Merriman, who led the NFL in sacks in 2006, was never intimidated by Manning’s physical ability.
“Peyton Manning’s arm never scared me,” Merriman said. “The physical parts of his game never scared me. What I was scared of was that brain – him being able to come out and dissect a defense before the play even starts, or him being able to hurry up to the line of scrimmage and get you shifting around and then picking apart your defense. That’s the part of Peyton Manning that’s always been scary to me. I never was intimidated by Peyton Manning dropping back in the pocket and throwing a dime 50 yards down the field. That never scared me. But what did was if we were trying to audible or shake him up, he’d just hike the ball because we knew we were going to be motioning around on defense. He just knew where everyone was at any given time. You can bring safety up to try to fake-blitz or a linebacker to step up in the hole and he knows the guy’s not coming. He knows another guy on the opposite side of the field you’re not even thinking of, he knows that guy is coming. That’s what makes Peyton Manning scary.”
Merriman said Brady was the same way. In fact, Merriman remembers closing in on Brady for a blind-side sack during his 2005 rookie season, but just before he could deliver the hit, Brady instinctively ducked, leaving Merriman lunging at air.
Merriman, who played in the NFL for eight seasons, never forgot that play.
“His awareness of what the game was and what was going on at that standpoint, I knew I was facing a different kind of animal,” Merriman said. “I knew I was facing someone who was great.