At 38 years old, Peyton Manning’s arm is not always as strong as a stiff breeze.
But here’s the good news: Maybe it doesn’t matter, especially when C.J. Anderson is giving everybody in Broncos Country flashbacks of Terrell Davis. Now there’s a sweet Rocky Mountain high.
On a brutally cold Sunday night in Kansas City, when a nasty wind out of the north dropped the wind chill at kickoff to 14 degrees, the heartwarming story of Denver’s 29-16 victory was Anderson.
It has long been my theory: If Denver absolutely needs Manning to be its best player week-in and week-out, the Broncos will never survive the long, cold road to the Super Bowl and win the NFL championship.
The unlikely hero to the rescue is Anderson. Through eight games of the 2014 season, the stout 5-foot-8 tailback gained an unspectacular 82 yards. Total. Anderson patiently waited for his opportunity, as the Broncos ran the fool’s errands of trying to prove Montee Ball is a better draft choice than Eddie Lacy and Ronnie Hillman can be an every-down back in the NFL.
In the second half of this season, however, Anderson could prove to be the team’s most valuable player.
Is Anderson as talented as Manning, receiver Demaryius Thomas or linebacker Von Miller? Absolutely not. But he gives the fancy-pants Broncos an edge, a needed dose of mean and a different way to win when Manning is less than perfect.
“Just running hard. Just letting people feel my story. Just being that tough, nasty running back that the O-line loves,” Anderson said. “It feels so good when you’re running through people and the O-line is saying: ‘Dude, great run!’ ”
The Broncos use a delightfully cheesy motivational tool at their Dove Valley headquarters. The team’s player of the week is awarded the prime parking spot in a lot filled with the automotive toys of rich, young athletes. It’s perfect because it rewards athletes in the same way you see at your neighborhood fast-food joint or local bank. Good work gets the benefit of fewer steps from the car to the office.
If anybody could use a lighter load on his feet, it’s Anderson.
After gaining 167 rushing yards against a solid Miami defense in a start prior to Thanksgiving, Anderson proved it was no fluke by ripping the Kansas City defense for 168 yards on the ground. It required 32 tough carries against the Chiefs.
“You don’t count your carries. But when you hear 32 after the game, you go: ‘Woo, that really happened?’ And I know I’m going to feel all 32 in the morning,” Anderson said before hopping the team flight back to Colorado.
During the throes of a recent slump, which saw the Broncos drop games at New England and St. Louis as their status as Super Bowl favorite got tossed in the dumpster, Manning repeatedly shouldered the responsibility, with the veteran quarterback going out of his way to say he stunk and needed to play better.
It was a laudable act by Manning. But what Denver really needed to get back on the championship track was to find a way to win with Manning being to comfortably show signs of age.
Manning did not stink against Kansas City. But the 38-year-old QB was not remarkable in the way that had made him the league’s MVP five times earlier in his amazing NFL career. His passes sometimes wobbled in the wind. He completed 17 of 34 attempts for a pedestrian 179 yards.
But it did not matter, and Denver again revealed the Chiefs as championship frauds, with smashmouth football that would make Vince Lombardi proud. With tight end Julius Thomas inactive while nursing a tender ankle, the Broncos frequently broke the huddle with three offensive tackles and pounded Kansas City into submission.
“You’ve got to give it to the big fellas up front. Making another statement. Just trying to prove everybody on the outside wrong and prove that we can run the ball,” Anderson said.
It’s hard to recognize these Broncos. “Star Wars” is out. Smash mouth is in.
“I think everybody calls us finesse because we have a quarterback who can throw for 500 yards and throw for five touchdowns,” Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “But we consider ourselves a hard-nosed group.”
Don’t call the Broncos pretty. Call them championship contenders, itching to fight for the Lombardi Trophy.