The impatience began to build after the season’s second week.
Chad Pennington, a new addition to the Miami Dolphins’ roster in 2008, was averaging less than six yards per pass attempt. His longest of 36 completions went only 24 yards.
Sure, he was a leader. Sure, he was efficient. Sure, he was learning a new system with new teammates. But what about the arm strength? How much was that noodle of an arm — the one that wasn’t going to get any better, mind you — to blame for an ugly 0-2 start?
“Being in New York for eight years, I learned a lot about patience,” Pennington said after a 31-10 loss to Arizona four years ago. “I don’t expect it to just one day click and everything start working perfectly. I’ve been here six weeks. It’s going to take time.
“Football is a funny game. You start putting those little things together and start having a little success here and a little success there, it’s like a snowball effect and it just becomes an avalanche.”
In other words: It is what it is. I am what I am. Whatever expression you want to use.
As we continue to closely scrutinize Peyton Manning’s future, maybe it’d be wise to take a closer look at the past decade’s best example of a quarterback with all of the weapons except the rifle — a quarterback with a much weaker arm, it should be noted right away, than Manning has displayed through two games with the Denver Broncos.
Do you remember what Pennington did during the next 14 games of that ’08 season? He threw just six interceptions. He completed 69 percent of his passes. And he lost only three more games in what was the greatest one-year turnaround by a team in NFL history.
So let’s get one thing straight: Manning’s arm strength isn’t the same as it once was, even if it was never elite. But that doesn’t mean his comeback is doomed. So far from it. It’s instead time we accept this deteriorated arm strength so we can turn this conversation into a more productive one about what we should anticipate, not what we already should have embraced before this season even began.
Perhaps the only problem in each of the first two games wasn’t as much Manning’s lack of strength as it was his lack of understanding about his physical limitations — what he can and can’t do — during a full-speed NFL game. Manning has been blunt from the beginning of this process that it’s going to take time; that he isn’t quite there yet.
Self-awareness, in this situation, is key. And Manning clearly is gaining it.
Look at the first quarters of each of the first two games against the Steelers and against the Falcons. In those first quarters combined, he had a passer rating of 58.8. Yet if you combine only the final three quarters of each game, Manning’s passer rating skyrocketed to 120.3 with no interceptions.
Searching for a theory to explain each game’s slow start? Here:
- Against the Steelers, it wasn’t until Manning abandoned the huddled offense for a faster-paced, no-huddle system that allowed his intelligence and game management to put the Steelers on their heels.
- Against the Falcons, it wasn’t until Manning chilled out — almost as if he realized he wasn’t the quarterback of 2006 or even 2009 — that he allowed his decision making to get the job done rather than his arm.
Let’s not belittle Manning too much, either. He did average 9.7 yards per pass against the Steelers in a sensational debut (seriously, we’re talking about 11 days ago) that led most everyone to say Manning is back. Only five quarterbacks on that same Sunday had a higher average per pass (and yes, each of those QBs also had a big play like Manning’s 71-yard TD to bolster the average).
Is it possible Manning’s own confidence after the big debut got a little too high, leading to three very ill-advised decisions to start the Falcons’ game? Not a bad theory. But let’s be real: Those were bad decisions more than an expression of limited arm strength. He can overcome that.