An Underappreciated Iron Man Proves His Mettle
He dressed slowly this time, meticulously pulling on tan corduroys, checked shirt and a tweed jacket with the little Colts pin already attached to the lapel. Then Peyton Manning picked up a towel and wiped the NFL's most famous face before letting out a long, deep sigh.
This time wasn't like the others, he said. On other Sundays, he has been able to deflect the biggest hits, dodge the screaming linebackers diving headlong for his knees. This dexterity and a dependable offensive line have allowed him to never miss a start, to take every snap in 112 of 134 games in his career, a remarkable string for anyone let alone a quarterback who wears tweed and knows enough about product placement to casually drop the name of the sports drink he endorses into his postgame news conference.
Then came the forearm of Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels crashing down on his helmet in the second quarter, and his knees buckled, his helmet snapped off and for a moment his world suddenly grew very dark.
"It was a little different," he said.
"The guy wouldn't let go of my helmet," Manning replied. "I looked into my helmet to see if my head was in there."
He did not smile as he said this. This might have been a joke, but it was not playful banter. Still, the face of seemingly every 120-second television break between possessions was also composed enough not to snarl at the cameras on the day he added mightily to his ever-growing legacy.
His statistical line was as glittering as on so many other weekends -- 342 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 140.4. But it was in the third quarter, after halftime had given him time to clear his head from the hit, when he won this game with three touchdowns and 138 yards. On those three possessions he was brilliant.
As Washington cornerback Shawn Springs -- beaten on one of those throws, a 38-yard pass to Marvin Harrison down the right sideline -- later said sitting before his locker, "He doesn't get mad, he just makes great throws."
Maybe this was the next step for Manning. Despite setting passing records almost annually, he has a reputation for softness, a tendency to collapse in the biggest games. And quite frankly, Manning hasn't been hit too many times, certainly not as hard as he was yesterday.
His coach, Tony Dungy, smirked a little as he said, "He's a little tougher than people give him credit for being," before adding, "We don't like to find out how tough he is."