|Peyton Manning's arm strength has been under scrutiny since a three-interception performance Monday. (Getty Images)|
Rarely do players pay the reporters watching the first periods of practice any mind. But rarely has Broncos QB Peyton Manning been as ruffled by criticism as he has this week.
As Manning threw toward an end zone where reporters stood early in Thursday's practice, he glanced over and announced, "Hey, those wobblers still hurt if they hit you in the head."
If there was any doubt that Manning took note of the fusillade of critiques over his misfires Monday night, it was erased with that zinger, which he delivered with as much pop as his lone touchdown pass Monday night -- a pass that sailed longer than any of his three first-quarter interceptions were intended.
Had Manning delivered his three errant first-quarter passes on target, they would have covered 30, 30.6 and 35 yards through the air. In the case of the last interception, he put too much on it and overshot WR Brandon Stokley. But his second-quarter touchdown pass to WR Demaryius Thomas covered 37.2 yards through the air -- an on-the-money strike near the left sideline of the end zone, three yards deep.
Two quarters later, Manning located WR Eric Decker on a post route and delivered a precise strike that covered 42.5 yards through the air. If Decker had not let the pass sail through his hands, the three interceptions might have been overlooked -- especially since that missed grab led to the Broncos' only punt on three fourth-quarter possessions, and might have reversed the game's result.
Manning targeted ex-Colts teammates on all three of his interceptions -- Stokley, a Colt from 2003-06, and TE Jacob Tamme, who played with him from 2008-10 before Manning's neck problems. It reveals that Manning may have a willingness to take chances with the targets he knows than the others, for whom Manning is still learning limitations and capabilities.
On the record, Manning dismisses the criticism -- "it is what it is, and I am what I am," he said Wednesday -- but he is aware of it, and his off-hand remark Thursday showed a sharp edge that is rarely revealed in his more choreographed interview settings.
Stokley doesn't notice anything different from his previous years with Manning.
"He's the same to me," Stokley said. "His level of intensity never changes, and I think that's what makes him so good -- win or lose, he's coming back with that same intensity next week."
Of course, criticism of Manning's velocity and spirals is nothing new, as earlier published analyses reveal.
"He has good arm strength, but not necessarily a “gun” that you might expect from a QB at the top of the draft."
"Lacks great arm strength. Passes tend to wobble at times."
Both were published scouting breakdowns of Manning leading into the 1998 NFL Draft -- one from The War Room; the other from the Associated Press. Breakdowns like those helped contribute to that year's vigorous debate over whether Manning or Ryan Leaf should be the top quarterback selected.
After an inconsistent rookie season, Manning proved the Colts right. Fourteen years later, he hopes he can do the same for the Broncos after an equally scattershot two weeks.