ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Red-faced and bundled on the sideline in a parka and stocking cap, Peyton Manning looked nothing the part of the cold-weather quarterback.
From a numbers perspective, he isn’t.
His 19-for-36, 150-yard performance in a 6-degree wind chill at New England showed it, as does his unflattering record. After Denver’s 34-31 overtime loss Sunday, Manning is now 8-11 when the temperature is 40 or below.
“It’s always a possibility these last months of the season, and then you’re potentially in the postseason,” Manning said of the idea that this might not be the last time he and the Broncos are faced with frigid temperatures. “So, I think the more you can be in it, the better off you can be.”
If practice makes perfect, Manning certainly hasn’t had much of it. He played most of his career in a temperature-controlled dome. He has played only 19 of 255 career games in the cold, including three with the Broncos, during which he’s used his new, cold-weather glove.
That small sample size still produces a season’s worth of numbers. Manning’s passer rating in the cold games: 83.1. His passer rating in all the other games: 97.0. His .421 winning percentage in cold-weather games is .273 lower than in the others.
Still, Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio, who defended Manning as a cold-weather quarterback last week, said there was no concerted effort to limit his 37-year-old quarterback’s attempts in a game that started at 22 degrees with a 22 mph wind.
“Our approach was, do the things we thought we could to move the football to best utilize our guys against what they were trying to do,” Del Rio said.
Specifically, he said, the Patriots were dropping eight and nine players into coverage, challenging Manning to either throw short or hand the ball off. Knowshon Moreno ran 37 times for a career-high 224 yards and that plan meshed with what the coaching staff has been preaching the last two weeks — that the Broncos need to pound the ball more with the cold weather moving in.
“I think it is more important that the ratio between run and pass is closer to being balanced,” offensive line coach Dave Magazu said last week. “It keeps them honest.”
Even though the plan worked, at least from a statistics perspective, Denver blew a 24-0 lead. Ultimately, the strategy played against the reason the Broncos acquired Manning: So they could have the ultimate playmaker in their corner, not someone who hands off a lot and tries to keep things close.
“We’ve got one of the great quarterbacks of all time and he’s got great weapons out there,” Del Rio said. “It was a blustery night that challenged some of those parts but I thought we excelled at doing some of the things we wanted to in those conditions.”
Manning was at his best late in the fourth quarter, when he completed 5 of 7 passes in leading the Broncos 80 yards for the tying touchdown. He made two throws very few quarterbacks can make: An 11-yard pass to Jacob Tamme fit inside a sliver of daylight on third-and-5; and a back-shoulder touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas that also went into an impossibly tight window.
Still, for most of the night, Manning looked uncomfortable and out of sorts both on the sideline and on the field — a marked contrast to Tom Brady, who wore less and celebrated more, including a screaming helmet bump with Rob Gronkowski after they connected for a touchdown that pulled the Patriots within 24-21.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick felt so good about his defense’s chances, he elected to take the wind instead of the ball after winning the coin flip in overtime. Manning’s OT stats: 2 for 5 for 16 yards. The Broncos couldn’t get past the New England 37 — not close enough for a field goal attempt going into the wind.
“All we needed was like five yards on that last play in order to give (Matt) Prater a field goal attempt and we couldn’t get that,” Manning said. “It was a very disappointing finish to the game for sure.”
Manning is now 1-2 with the Broncos in the cold. The victory was over a terrible Kansas City team to close out last regular season. The losses were to New England and in the playoffs last year to Baltimore, where Manning’s third turnover of the day — an across-the-body pass on second-and-6 that got intercepted — led to Baltimore’s winning points.
The day after that game, Manning conceded he still hadn’t completely adjusted to the numbness in his hands when the weather was cold and there was no way to simulate it in practice.
The Broncos have a game in Kansas City next week followed by two more at home — all of which hold at least the possibility of offering Manning more cold-weather work before the playoffs start.