Now that his remarkable comeback has completed its regular-season portion, perhaps the legacy of Peyton Manning should be revisited.
It was never a question of whether he was among the best quarterbacks of all time. That is indisputable. The debate is whether he is the best.
Manning's legacy doesn't need a fifth MVP, nice as that would be. It needs a second Super Bowl ring.
The journey for No. 2 was enhanced Sunday with the acquisition of No. 1. Manning's sharp, three touchdown passing performance helped the Broncos annihilate the hapless Kansas City Chiefs in a name-the-score, 38-3, victory Sunday before a bundled but satisfied sellout crowd at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The game ball was expected to go to Broncos coach John Fox, who picked up his 100th career NFL victory.
The crowd became especially excited after the third quarter. As the Broncos' stellar defense ran from the south side of the field to the north with a 35-3 lead, they were saluted with a loud, standing ovation.
The appreciation for Manning was more subtle. In his first season with the Broncos at 36 years old, Manning finished off several single-season franchise records and NFL milestones in victory. Most importantly, he helped Denver secure the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. The Broncos' 11th consecutive win, coupled with the Houston Texans' second straight loss, means the AFC playoffs will go through Denver.
Manning and the Broncos will advance through the postseason's first round without having to play. They get a bye week. In the second round, the Broncos will play at home, most likely against the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 4-seed Baltimore and Manning's previous team, the No. 5 Indianapolis Colts.
In the other first-round playoff game, the fading, No. 3-seeded Texans will host the No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals. The New England Patriots will also get a first-round bye after they earned the No. 2 seed.
But if Tom Brady — one of Manning's chief rivals in the "best quarterback of all time" discussion — and the Patriots are to play in their sixth Super Bowl in 12 years, they may well have to beat the Broncos in Denver in the AFC championship game.
Entering the regular-season finale Sunday, the NFL's MVP race was between Manning, the frontrunner, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the challenger.
All eyes were on Peterson and whether he could surpass 2,000 yards rushing for the season while also lifting the Vikings to the playoffs. Peterson had ran well past the 2,000-yard milestone by the fourth quarter of the Vikings' closely contested game with the Green Bay Packers.
But understand, even if Peterson met his requirements Sunday for league MVP doesn't mean he'll get it. It just meant Manning, who alreadly had all the credentials for a MVP season, would not be a landslide winner. The vote figures to be close.
Manning stamped his candidacy Sunday while wearing a Broncos' orange-and-blue glove to protect his right throwing hand from the December chill. The glove was more aid than hinderance as Manning completed 23 of 29 for 304 yards, three touchdowns and a robust 144.8 passer rating. In three quarters. The Broncos were up 35-3 at that point, enough to reward rookie backup Brock Osweiler with some fourth quarter playing time.
It was nearly two years ago that Manning went down with a neck injury that eventually required four neck surgeries to repair. It forced him to miss the entire 2011 season with the Colts, and led Indianpolis to release him so it began anew with a No. 1 draft choice named Andrew Luck.
The Colts' gain was the Broncos' gain. Manning's first regular season with the Broncos is now in the books: A team-record 400 completions for a team-record 4,659 yards and a team-record 37 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions.
More importantly, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 record — not a team record but their first No. 1 playoff seeding since their 1998 Super Bowl team set the record with a 14-2 regular-season mark.
Now, with the beginning of the 2012 postseason, it's no longer about the MVP or any individual awards. It's about the team, and maybe a certain individual legacy, and the Super Bowl.