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Give Manning a chance

End Zone


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How would you feel if the Denver Nuggets could bring in LeBron James, but decided to stay with Danilo Gallinari? What if the Colorado Rockies could add CC Sabathia, but instead kept Jorge De La Rosa? Or if the Colorado Avalanche could have Sidney Crosby, but chose to press on with Paul Stastny?

When the news came Monday that Peyton Manning wanted to become the Denver Broncos' next quarterback, more than a few orange-blooded fans made it clear they would rather have Tim Tebow instead. Really.

Let's make one point clear: Nobody can deny what the kid from Florida has meant to Denver's franchise. Last season, he carried the Broncos from a 1-4 start to the AFC West title and the postseason conquest of Pittsburgh. (We won't go into how injury-depleted the Steelers were.)

Tebow's statistics weren't gaudy, and his mechanics made purists cringe. But he delivered enough to put the Broncos into the playoffs, despite three humbling losses to end the regular season: blowouts to New England and Buffalo before that 7-3 home defeat to Kansas City.

Nobody can ignore or diminish Tebow's attitude and leadership. But the result still was 9-9, counting playoffs. Obviously, if nothing changed for 2012, the Broncos would have rallied around No. 15, hoping for more of his magic. Of course, they also would've been expecting a far better completion percentage than his 46 percent in 2011, last among NFL starting quarterbacks, 18 of whom were at 60 percent or better.

Sure, Tebow could've improved. But make a quantum leap? Not likely.

By comparison, Manning has a career completion percentage of 64.9 percent, along with his superlative passer ratings through the years and a career-high 450 completions for 4,700 yards in 2010.

We covered the gamble factor last week. Manning's neck troubles, and the surgeries he's been through, might prevent him from ever being as good again. But his doctors have cleared him. This is where Denver's followers have to give team executive John Elway some slack. There's no way the franchise would do this unless Elway was fully convinced of Manning's recovery and arm strength.

We know that Manning has always taken good care of himself. We know how much he still wants to win Super Bowls. And forget the concern about Manning not being a good match for Colorado's weather. He's 3-1 in games at Denver with six touchdown passes, one interception, 68 percent completions and a 100.6 rating. And the Broncos don't play many home games in frigid conditions.

Now it's up to Manning to take charge, and he will. From the day he arrives and organizes workouts, he'll teach receivers which routes work best, and he'll share his immense knowledge with everyone, particularly the linemen, of how to recognize and attack defenses. He'll focus on receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and recent free-agent signee Jason Hill (49ers), and he'll involve the running backs, starting with Willis McGahee. If Denver can sign his longtime tight end, Dallas Clark, even better.

Manning also will elevate everyone's expectations. The definitive comment on that comes from Brian Griese, Elway's successor as Denver's quarterback and now an excellent Broncos radio analyst. He's been giving talk-show and ESPN interviews, with one theme: "When you put Peyton Manning on your team, you're not talking about winning the division anymore. You're talking about winning the Super Bowl."

The price for that will include trading Tim Tebow, and Tebowmania, to another NFL team. Also, accepting the reality that Denver will need another quarterback in a few more years. Meanwhile, consider this: A week ago, Denver's odds in Las Vegas of winning the next Super Bowl were as high as 70-1. After the Manning news, those odds dropped to 7-1.

John Elway was willing to pay that price, and put his reputation on the line for it.

He could have just made the smartest move in Broncos history.


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