EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At midfield, as a sea of cameras and microphones and oglers watched, Peyton and Eli hugged. It was quick, unremarkable. Then Peyton jogged off the field in one direction, leaving in less than 20 seconds. Eli stayed for another two to three minutes, congratulating various Denver players.
They looked relieved.
"I think both of us are glad that it's over with," said Peyton.
Their father, Archie, stood in the bowels of MetLife Stadium and spoke of how it was still tough to watch son-against-son. No one in the family likes this. They hate it. Because one has to lose.
What everyone will talk about is Peyton 41 and Eli 23 as if the two teams themselves, the 2-0 Broncos and the 0-2 Giants, are afterthoughts. Yet Manning Bowl III wasn't so much about a game between two brothers as it was a coronation of one. It wasn't so much a sibling rivalry as it was an older bro patting the younger one on the head. What Peyton demonstrated was not, on this day, that he was better than his brother—that was obvious.
What Peyton showed was that, on this day, the Broncos are the most complete team in football. No other team truly comes close and, unfortunately, Eli's Giants were used as a prop to make this point.
During a five-minute and 12-second span between the third and fourth quarters, the Broncos turned a 17-16 game into a blowout by outscoring New York, 21-0, mostly as Eli watched helplessly from the sideline. They scored on the ground with Knowshon Moreno, through the air with Manning, and on a 81-yard punt return by Trindon Holliday, maybe the fastest man in the NFL. All the while, Denver's defense spent much of the time in Eli's face, or smothering his receivers, or stuffing his backs. Or stuffing him.
Peyton had just 13 incompletions on 43 attempts, threw for 307 yards, two scores and had a 105.5 passer rating. Splendid work. His nine touchdowns through the opening two games ties him for the most in NFL history, and he is the only player in league history to have nine passing scores and no interceptions through the first two weeks of the season. Manning also became just the third player ever to throw for 60,000 yards and trails only Dan Marino (61,361) and Brett Favre (71,838). Manning reached the milestone with the fewest attempts, at 7,841.
That's the raw data. It is the mechanical and the statistical. The more practical aspect is that this is likely the last time the two brothers will face each other on a football field—unless you count two-hand touch at family barbecues—and Peyton has clearly established he's the better Manning in their three games. He's never lost to Eli, and this time Eli threw four interceptions.
Sure, Peyton has faltered in some big spots, and Eli has twice beaten Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in Super Bowls, but what we saw on Sunday was typical Peyton. Conductor, orchestrator, band leader, bully—choose your description. This is the most talented team Peyton has ever played on (and the various, suspended pieces aren't even all there yet), and all he has to do with this team is just be Peyton. Throw his accurate passes, lead, be the perfectionist, and all of the other pieces fall into place.
He's always been the centrifuge with the accurate throws, but now he has a solid defense, solid special teams and a developing rushing game.
"All three phases are working for us," said Broncos defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "Right now, we're very well-rounded."
For now, not only did Eli not stand a chance, the rest of the NFL might not, either.
The Giants aren't a great team, but they're also not a horrible one. The Broncos sliced through them in the second half like the G-men were the Jacksonville Jaguars. Peyton said the halftime adjustment was more usage of two tight ends, and this opened up the running game. Moreno had touchdown runs of 20 and 25 yards, the second coming later in the contest.
After a bit, as you watched the Broncos, no one seemed to care this game was about Manning v. Manning. It's easy to become cynical about the Manning family, Eli and Peyton specifically. They are millionaires many times over and were born into great privilege. They're everywhere. There hasn't been a commercial made in the history of television that didn't feature them. They are so overexposed that even Miley Cyrus says, "Damn, you guys need to get off the TV."
Yet this story is still special and the fact the Mannings aren't outwardly pretentious or jerkish makes their overexposure less smarmy. The Manning Bowl itself may be drummed-up theater, but the two brothers are indeed theatrical. The immense talent legitimately casts a shadow across the league. Turn your nose up at the Mannings all you'd like, but they are still fun to watch. Especially when Peyton is playing like this.
In the Denver locker room, the Broncos were confident but not cocky. They were low-keying every aspect of their 2-0 start—just as you would expect a smart team to do.
"You don't consider yourself good until you win it all," said Moreno.
Neither Manning said much about playing the other; they despise talking about this. Peyton stood at the podium in a perfectly ironed charcoal suit with perfectly polished brown shoes and spoke of the imperfect moment of beating his brother.
"We're both glad it's over," he said a second time.
We will likely never see another Manning Bowl, but we will likely see a lot more of Peyton this year. A lot more.