National Columnist

Ideal conditions help Peyton Manning weather Chiefs in KC

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At kickoff it was 55 degrees at Arrowhead Stadium, with a gentle breeze of 4 mph.

"Perfect weather," says Broncos right guard Louis Vasquez.

Peyton weather, says the official stat sheet from the Broncos' 35-28 victory Sunday against Kansas City.

Peyton Manning could well be the greatest quarterback of all time -- that's a discussion for another day, but whenever the discussion happens, you better believe Manning will be part of it -- but he does have a weakness: imperfect weather. Cold weather, to be more precise. When the mercury goes down, so does his passer rating. Cold weather and a lot of wind? That's when Manning is mortal, and a mortal Manning is a beatable Manning -- as confirmed by his 8-12 career record in games with temperatures below 40 degrees at kickoff.

But a comfortable Peyton Manning? A Peyton Manning playing in cozy temperatures and still air? That's the immortal. That's the all-time great.

That's the guy we saw Sunday at Arrowhead.

One game after his worst performance of the season -- 150 yards in 36 attempts in a 34-31 loss on a cold, windy day at New England -- Manning bounced back with one of his best games in a Broncos uniform: 403 passing yards, five touchdowns, a 118.2 passer rating.

Since joining the Broncos before the 2012 season and embarking on the most prolific two-year stretch of his career, Manning has exceeded that combination of numbers -- 403 passing yards, five TDs, 118.2 passer rating -- only once: in the 2013 opener against the Ravens (462 yards, seven TDs, 141.1 rating). He has exceeded two of those numbers only one other time for Denver, in that ridiculous 51-48 victory at Dallas on Oct. 6 when he threw for 414 yards, four touchdowns and a 129.6 rating.

What I'm saying is, in the best two-year stretch of Manning's career, this was one of the best two or three games he has played. And the conditions Sunday at Arrowhead?

"Perfect," Vasquez said.

It helped that the Chiefs had a Peyton-friendly injury report, too. Linebacker Justin Houston, third in the NFL with 11 sacks, missed the game with a dislocated elbow. Another linebacker, Tamba Hali -- 10th in the league with nine sacks -- played on a sprained ankle after being limited all week in practice, but he was limited in the game as well: two tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hurries, no real impact on Peyton Manning.

"He did a good job of getting the ball out," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Manning. "We just have to keep getting better, but he's the best in the business at doing that."

Manning threw four of his touchdowns to Eric Decker, most at the expense of Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper.

"Peyton is going to find you if you're open," said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio, "if he likes the matchup."

Manning was devastating, but he wasn't perfect. He threw interceptions on two of the Broncos' first three drives, although one came on a ball that bounced off Demaryius Thomas' hand, and the Chiefs used those turnovers to build a 21-7 lead.

But the weather stayed perfect, and pretty soon so was Manning. After throwing those two interceptions, Manning finished with a flourish over the final 2 1/2 quarters: 16 for 25 for 288 yards and four touchdowns. The Broncos reeled off 28 consecutive points for a 35-21 lead that gave them the cushion they needed to withstand a late Chiefs rally.

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, who threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns despite being victimized by several downfield drops, couldn't connect with Dwayne Bowe on fourth-and-4 at the Chiefs 13, and the Broncos ran out the final 1 minute, 46 seconds.

The loss is the third in a row for the Chiefs after their 9-0 start, and it probably guarantees they will start the playoffs as a wild-card team; they're a full game behind the Broncos with four games to play, and Denver has the tiebreaker edge by sweeping the season series. The three losses don't necessarily scream "panic time," but the loss of left tackle Branden Albert to an apparent knee injury in the second half, combined with the continued absence of Justin Houston, is another matter.

As for the Broncos, their four remaining regular-season games are as friendly as can be for Peyton Manning -- two games at home, with road trips to Houston and Oakland. With a one-game lead on the Patriots for the top seed in the West and the home field that comes with it, Manning might not have to play a postseason game outside of Denver until the Super Bowl. It will be cold in Denver, but Manning's issues have been in cold-weather games where he is not at home.

Like New York in February, for example. The Super Bowl will almost surely be played in conditions that make him mortal and his team beatable, but that's a bridge to cross later. For now, Manning just has to stay healthy behind an offensive line missing its best player (Ryan Clady is on injured reserve) and on a right ankle that is wrapped heavily. Manning has so much tape and socks and material on his lower right leg that it looks like a snow boot.

The Broncos will get back coach John Fox this week, and could see the return of tight end Julius Thomas (knee), cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder) and even defensive end Derek Wolfe. Wolfe missed the game after suffering seizure-like symptoms on Friday, but after a battery of tests on Saturday, Del Rio said "we may in fact get him back."

It's all coming together nicely for the Broncos, including the weather report that greeted the team Sunday and allowed Peyton Manning to dump a deluge of yards and touchdowns on the Kansas City secondary.

 
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