But there are times when being a tough guy is the only answer. With 1:55 left against the Chargers on Nov. 10, the Broncos were one first down from clinching the game. Manning faked a handoff and looked to Demaryius Thomas running a comeback. It was a slow-developing route, and Manning had rushers all around him. Nobody would have blamed him if he'd taken a sack and lived to fight another play.
But he stepped into the pass. He was hit, low and from behind. The pass was perfect, icing the game. But Manning had taken another shot to his sore ankles. The next morning, he was back in the MRI machine. The stat sheet read that he had 330 yards and four touchdowns. But really, the only thing that mattered was that he had sold out at the most critical moment. And once again, he survived. Barely.
It was an epic rejection of the storyline that he had instantly become a better quarterback now that he had a ring. Manning has never judged quarterbacks -- including himself -- in the overly simplistic way that most of us do. He considered himself a better quarterback not because he had won a Super Bowl but because he had the experience of one more game under his belt, 60 minutes of added knowledge.
It's almost as if Manning knew then that he would be drawing on that knowledge now, when he finds himself again judged in simplistic ways. Those who compare him to his former self and mock his wobbly passes are missing the point. The point is that Manning is persevering because he no longer compares himself to his former self. He let go. In a very real way, he's no longer a mystery. He is as naked on each play as he was when he stood tearing up before the Colts game, spending everything he has, leaving it out there for the world to see.