Broncos face another test in Redskins
If it’s not a reunion game, it’s a family feud or a clash of the titans or some other made-for-TV extravaganza. This week it’s Mike Shanahan’s return to Denver, which probably won’t be half as problematic for the Broncos as Robert Griffin III’s return to health.
The surgically repaired RGIII is looking more like the old RGIII every game. That should mean boffo ratings for Sunday’s FOX Game of the Week between the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.
I’m just starting to feel a little sympathy for the Broncos.
A schedule is supposed to let you come up for air every now and then. The NFL decided to mine every storyline possible out of the Broncos this season, so there hasn’t been a lot of routine breathing.
It started with the Thursday night opener against the Super Bowl champ Ravens. Then Manning Bowl III. Then the Eagles when everybody still thought Chip Kelly might be a genius.
There was the epic shootout in Dallas.
Even the Jacksonville game became prime water-cooler talk around the nation as millions debated whether Denver could cover the 28-point spread.
Then came Return to Peyton Place, co-starring Jim Irsay’s pregame observations on how the Colts are better off without old No. 18. Now, after facing all that and the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, Manning & Co. face the No. 2 pick at the wrong time.
“The last couple of games, he’s gotten back to the way he was last year,” Shanahan said of his Griffin. “You can see that he’s feeling better.”
Meanwhile, Manning isn’t. On Wednesday, a sore ankle kept him from practicing for the first time as a Bronco. He hurt it in Sunday's 39-33 loss to Indianapolis. It’s hard to say exactly what hit did the damage, there were just so many.
Denver’s protection and Andrew Luck’s ascension had a lot more to do with the loss than Hype Fatigue. But it was obvious he had more to deal with than the Colts’ defensive schemes.
“I’m somewhat relieved that this game is over,” Manning said.
It’s not every week you return to a place you once ruled. Manning got a 70-second video tribute before the game. That’s 50 seconds longer than the one Denver has planned for Shanahan. How does he think the ex-coach will handle it?
“I can’t speak for someone else in that situation,” Manning said. “It’s a personal thing.”
There are few things in life more personally stressful than reunions. If it’s family, you might get stuck sitting next to the crazy uncle who picks his teeth. If it’s high school, you worry you’ll be mistaken for one of your parents while everybody else looks like they did in 1987.
If it’s pro football, you get tired of answering the same questions about Eli for the 10,000th time. And to think Denver’s schedule was supposed to be the easiest in the league. Its opponents went 110-146-0 last season, largely due to the sad state of the AFC West.
Division teams have to play each other twice. Since Denver’s division was so lame, schedule-makers had more leeway to let their ratings imaginations run wild with the rest of the games.
The hitch is the AFC West is turning out pretty good. First-place Kansas City is 7-0 and already has five more wins than last year, and San Diego and Oakland are tougher. When they’re not facing a division opponent the next month, the Broncos will be going against - surprise! – the Patriots.
Manning vs. Brady might get as many eyeballs as Manning vs. Luck. That one drew 26.9 million people, the most for an October game since 1992. It was the biggest TV draw since the Academy Awards. Yes, even bigger than "Sharknado."
The NFL is a business, so you can’t really blame it for pushing its most attractive product. But you’ll understand why the Broncos are starting to feel more exploited than Honey Boo Boo.
At least this week’s reunion should have zero affect on Manning. He never played for Shanahan, unless you count the 2005 Pro Bowl. And he can look way down the schedule to December, when the non-divisional opponents will be Houston and Tennessee.
Presumably the Titans, not the Volunteers.