Judgements: What next for Manning, skidding Broncos?

The Denver Broncos have a three-game lead in the AFC West, but never has the future looked bleaker for the defending division champions. The reason? The Broncos are falling apart, with quarterback Peyton Manning unraveling so fast he was benched Sunday.

Denver Broncos-December 12, 2013

(Peyton Manning photos courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Seldom has the future for a division leader looked bleaker than it does today in Denver. Yeah, I know, the Broncos have a three-game lead in the AFC West and have the league’s best defense, but a show of hands for anyone who believes these guys go deep into the playoffs … if, that is, they make the playoffs. I’m serious. The Broncos can’t run, and Peyton Manning … well, at 39 he looks more like 59. Plus, now there are reports he has a torn plantar fascia, and, trust me, that's one painful injury. Manning isn’t going to get better with time, people. He’s going to get older … and a 16-game schedule is cruel to 39-year-olds, especially in November and December. You saw how he looked in the playoffs last year, and that’s how he looked Sunday when he was benched after a season-high four interceptions and a Blutarsky rating of 0.0. At this rate, Manning winds up with a career-high 30 interceptions … and you can’t win like that. So how exactly does Denver win? Good question. Manning has interceptions in every game this year and, worse, has multiple interceptions in five of his last six starts. But here’s the biggest concern: There are still seven games left, and Brock Osweiler is the only other option.

2. Here’s another reason not to like Denver down the stretch: Poise. It's missing. A week ago, Aqib Talib poked an opponent in the eye and was suspended. Then on Sunday T.J. Ward was tossed for punching Jeremy Maclin on Kansas City’s last touchdown. If adversity reveals character, the Broncos are right down there with Dallas.

3. Yes, Minnesota is for real. Reason: Unlike Green Bay, the Vikings can play defense and can run the ball. And unlike Green Bay, the Vikings are hot.

4. I don't hear Aaron Rodgers telling anyone to R-E-L-A-X, and maybe this is why: The most reliable and most productive parts of the Packers – namely, Rodgers and the offense --- are in a funk, not waking up until it’s too late. And you can look it up. They have 14 points in the first halves of their last three games—all losses – and were blanked in the first half Sunday, ending a 26-game streak with at least one touchdown the first two quarters. Two things disturbing about their latest setback: 1) It was home where Rodgers had won 40 of his previous 43 games and 2) it was against the worst team in the league, Detroit, a bottom feeder that lost its previous 24 starts in Wisconsin.Worse, over the first three quarters of its last three starts, the Pack has three touchdowns in 26 series. Something has to change.

5. I don’t believe in moral victories, either, except … well, except that was a moral victory for the Giants. With a loss, they proved they’re more than the team to beat in the NFC East; they proved they can play with the best.

6. If there’s anything that should disturb Eli Manning it’s missing a wide-open Odell Beckham on second-and-goal on the Giants’ last drive. Instead, Manning zeroed in on Dwayne Harris, the pass fell incomplete and the Giants wound up with a field goal. Tom Coughlin always talks about finishing, but the Giants couldn't finish late drives vs. Dallas (the season opener) or New England ... and it cost them two games they should have won, both by 27-26 scores.

7. Someone put out an APB on Green Bay’s James Jones. He had six TD catches the first six games. He has three catches … period … the last three, including none Sunday.

8. Scratch a third straight division title for Seattle ... and maybe, just maybe, the playoffs. Not only does the Legion of Boom look more like the Contagion of Gloom, blowing second-half leads in all five Seattle losses, but there's no home-field advantage for a team that once couldn't lose there. The Seahawks are 2-2 at CenturyLink Field and would be 1-3 if officials hadn't gift-wrapped a win over Detroit. With games against Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Arizona coming up, the Seahawks are in critical condition.

9. The news isn’t that Sam Bradford is hurt. It's that it took nine games for him to get there.

10. The next month determines if Pittsburgh is one of the two AFC wildcards. The Steelers play, in order, at Seattle; Indianapolis; at Cincinnati and Denver. At this point, I say they make it.

11. Drew Brees may be “annoyingly optimistic” about New Orleans’ chances, but it’s over, Drew. You can’t score 51 each week … which is what it takes to overcome the Saints’ defense – or whatever you call it.

12. What a marvelous win for Arizona. They all but clinched the NFC West despite the loss of Michael Floyd ... despite the loss of Mike Iupati ... despite blowing a 19-point lead ... and despite two Carson Palmer fumbles that produced easy Seattle touchdowns. But the point is: They won, and they won in a hostile environment. Make the Cards a strong No. 2 choice in the NFC and make them an early favorite to upend Cincinnati next weekend.

13. It’s time to admit the obvious: The Rams can’t win with Nick Foles. The Rams just got rid of their concrete floor. After this season, they should get rid of their quarterback, too.

14. Now I know why we never hear talk about Gus Bradley’s future. At 3-6, his Jaguars are one game out of first in the AFC South. Honest.

15. Mike Pettine, do what's right and name Johnny Manziel your starter for the rest of the year -- and, no, I don’t care how Josh McCown feels or that he gives you “the best chance to win.” At this point, it doesn’t matter. He’s not your quarterback of the future. Manziel may be. But you have to play him to find out. So play him.

16. Calvin Johnson is one lucky guy. Thanks to that Mason Crosby miss, his name won't appear in the same sentence with Brandon Bostick.

17. Somebody tell Marc Trestman he has Justin Forsett and that it’s OK to run the ball.

18. Nobody was happier to have Ben Roethlisberger make it through Sunday’s game than tight end Heath Miller. He was the Steelers’ emergency quarterback.

19. Carolina is 9-0 without Greg Hardy. The Cowboys are 0-5 with him. Just sayin.’

20. Dallas should’ve know it was toast. Bill Vinovich was the referee for its game in Tampa Bay, and home teams are 9-0 with Vonovich's crew.

21. And that, folks, is why the Jets gave up on Mark Sanchez.

22. Welcome back, Tony Romo. Now, here's what you're up against: If you believe that 9-7 wins the NFC East, you must win every start. But if you believe 8-8 wins it, you must go 6-1. And that's a problem when four of your next six games are on the road, and a fifth is vs. unbeaten Carolina.

23. Cam Newton is right, of course. If you don't like his touchdown celebrations, do something about it. Like stop him from scoring.

24. Never has defense been more ineffective in Baltimore than it is this season, and blame it on the loss of Terrell Suggs or blame it on a weak secondary, I don't care. But when Ladarius Webb intercepted Blake Bortles in the second quarter Sunday it marked the Ravens’ first pickoff in 21 quarters and 66 drives. We don't make 'em up.

25. Trust me, Tom Brady is going to miss Julian Edelman. I'm with NBC's Rodney Harrison: Edelman is as valuable to the Patriots ... or Brady ... as Rob Gronkowski. They better hope he's back for the playoffs.


(Photo courtesy of Carolina Panthers)
(Photo courtesy of Carolina Panthers)

(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)

Carolina QB Cam Newton. He joins Steve Young (31) as the only quarterbacks to run and throw for touchdowns in each of 30 or more games.

Detroit CB Crezdon Butler. Signed off the practice squad on Saturday, he breaks up a two-point conversion one day later --sparing Detroit overtime and preserving the Lions’ first win in Wisconsin in 25 years.

Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown. A week ago, he had 17 catches for 284 yards -- with most of it with Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup. Then he returns with 10 catches, 139 yards and two scores Sunday -- with most of it with Big Ben in the lineup again. Impressive? You bet. But wait until you see him flip over his second TD.

Chicago RB Jeremy Langford. Matt Forte goes down, and Langford steps up … big time. The rookie combined for 182 yards rushing and receiving and scored twice, which is why Forte plays for someone else next year.

Jacksonville WR Allen Hurns. That’s seven straight games with a touchdown, something you’d know if you drafted him for your fantasy-football team.

Washington QB Kirk Cousins. Not only does he throw four more touchdown passes; he achieves his first-ever perfect rating – 158.3. With Sunday’s performance, Cousins has won his last four starts at home, with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions there.

New England PK Stephen Gostkowski. He’s nailed his last 30 field goals and none bigger than that 54-yarder that beat New York with one second left.


Dez Bryant, Cary Williams

(Dez Bryant photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Dallas WR Dez Bryant. Nice effort on that last pass, Dez. That interception wasn’t Matt Cassel’s fault. He gave Bryant a chance to make a play. Only he didn’t. He didn’t even try.

Baltimore LB Elvis Dumervil. Talk about stupid. Jacksonville has no timeouts, there’s one second left and the Jags are at the Ravens' 49. In essence, they're fried. Except … except Dumervil sacks Blake Bortles by pulling an Arthur Moats and grabbing his facemask. Uh-oh. That’s a 15-yarder, and it’s the beginning of the end for Baltimore, which suffers another close loss. I’ve seen a lot of bad plays this year, but this one … this one is at or near the top.

New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. I don’t know if it’s the scheme or the players. I just know it’s not working, and the envelope, please: The Saints have allowed 14 touchdown passes with no interceptions and 130 points the past three games. Horrible.

Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. His two interceptions and fumble on three successive series helped doom the Ravens. OK, they should’ve won … and would have had Elvis Dumervil not had brain-lock. But Flacco’s been asked to carry way too much of the load in Baltimore.

N.Y. Giants S Landon Collins. The rookie could’ve preserved the upset of New England with a last-minute interception that, frankly, was relatively easy. But he didn’t, and you don’t give Tom Brady a second chance.

Detroit K Matt Prater. Two missed extra points made the Lions-Packers game more interesting than it should’ve been. Had Detroit lost, Prater would’ve had some tough questions to answer. For that matter, so would’ve Calvin Johnson.

Dallas S Jeff Heath. I don’t care that he has two interceptions Sunday. It was his hold that cost Dallas another victory, with Heath whistled just before Jameis Winston fumbled at the goal line.


Regular Season

(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. He wasn’t supposed to play because of a painful foot injury. In fact, he wasn’t supposed to play for two weeks. But when Landry Jones went down with a first-quarter ankle injury, the Steelers had a choice: Big Ben or emergency QB Heath Miller. Which meant they had no choice. So it was up to Roethlisberger … and he responded with three touchdown passes and 379 yards – setting a yardage record for a quarterback coming off the bench.


“I drink a lot of milk.” – Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger on his quick recovery.


0.0 -- Peyton Manning passer rating vs. Kansas City

3 -- Games without a Dallas touchdown

3 – Straight games with a Miami safety

5 – Brandin Cooks’ TDs in his last three games

5 – Straight games with a Lamar Miller TD, the longest streak since 2003 (Ricky Williams)

5 -- Opponents that have scored 27 or more points on Seattle this season

6 -- Career 200-yard rushing games for Adrian Peterson

9 – Yards, the longest run of Todd Gurley’s afternoon

21 – Targets of Davonte Adams Sunday

61 – Aaron Rodgers passes vs. Detroit

296 – Kirk Cousins passing yards … in the first half