ENGLEWOOD – This is the week of temporary irrelevance. It’s the week when players are asked by television reporters whether they will wear sleeves when the forecast for the upcoming game is for temperatures around 25ºF (-4ºC).
That doesn’t matter much; many wise coaches have counseled their players to wear whatever makes each one feel the least conscious of the conditions. For some, that means layering up. For others, it means nothing at all.
But the cold-weather accoutrement that matters most is the glove on Peyton Manning’s right hand, which he began practicing with in December and unveiled for the 34-12 win over Cleveland on Dec. 23. He wore it again seven days later against Kansas City.
So far, so good.
He did well enough against Kansas City to corral AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, his 23rd such award, matching Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“You know, for wearing it for the first time in my entire football career, I guess you could say it’s been okay the past two weeks,” Manning said.
Obviously, the competition wasn’t of the highest caliber, but Manning’s performance with the glove has nevertheless been impressive; his completion percentage is up (from 67.8 in Weeks 1-15 to to 73.6 in the final two games); his quarterback rating rose (from 103.5 to 122.7) and he threw three touchdown passes each time.
His pass-catchers notice nothing different.
“That’s been pretty impressive to see him throw the glove on and it’s like it’s not even there. It’s working great,” tight end Jacob Tamme said.
Of course, there’s another reason why making a change at this point was worth exploring, and it’s the elephant in the room that hasn’t quite left just yet: the struggles of Manning-led teams on the road in foul-weather situations in the playoffs.
In playoff road games, Manning is 2-5, which is 3-6 if including neutral-site Super Bowls, both played in Miami Gardens, Fla., with the one he won, Super Bowl XLI, taking place in the worst downpour in Super Bowl history. At home — which until now has always meant “inside,” his teams are 6-4 in the postseason.
But perhaps most crucial is the temperature; Manning’s teams have played just three playoff games in sub-50-degree temperatures and lost them all: two in New England and one, on Jan. 4, 2003, against the New York Jets. Only one of Manning’s playoff wins came hen the temperature was below 60ºF; in those six games, Manning is 1-5 with seven touchdowns against 10 interceptions and a 67.9 quarterback rating.
Consider that for a moment. Manning, a Super Bowl winner clearly in the conversation for greatest quarterback ever, has a rating over a decent sum of sub-60-degree playoff games that would get most passers benched. When he plays in 60-or-above conditions regardless of venue, Manning’s playoff quarterback rating is 97.6.
With sub-freezing conditions looming for the divisional round, logically, Manning’s best play was to try something different — like a glove. The worst that could have happened was a poor feel on the football, and he would have returned to the status quo, no problem.
But the glove didn’t just pass the test against the Browns and Chiefs — it aced it, with some of his best play since his return. Now he’s ready to succeed in the exact conditions where he’s been felled before.