Tag Archives: Russell Wilson

Week 2 NFL picks

Drew Brees was on TV last night encouraging gambling. Not just on TV, on NFL Network, the platform owned by the league, during the game between Washington and the New York Giants. 

If you blinked, you may have missed a rather startling sea change. Sports leagues have pivoted from staunch public opposition to gambling on their games to actively recruiting sponsors and partners from the gambling industry. Are you sick of Jamie Foxx or that woman from DraftKings yet? Or was it FanDuel? I get them mixed up.

Brees, the clean-cut star quarterback of the New Orleans Saints until he retired after last season, morphed right along with his sport. Thursday night he was hawking a platform called PointsBet.

Colorado voters narrowly approved legal sports betting in the fall of 2019. The launch came May 1, 2020. A pandemic was sweeping the state at the time, a lot of sporting events were postponed or canceled, so you might not have noticed.

There were 25 licensed sports books and operators in the state at last count. Betting is now about as easy as having a meal delivered. All it requires is a phone. If you download one of the apps from an ad on social media, as I did, you will soon be served with ads for many of the others. Telling Apple to ask apps not to track you doesn’t seem to help.

Betting on sports is a lot like speculating in financial markets. If you live in Colorado, chances are you know more about the Broncos than you do most small-cap companies, or any cryptocurrency. 

There are people in both fields who will drown you in statistics if you let them. Sports betting gurus will offer quantitative measurements of increasing sophistication and inscrutability in the same way stock analysts will cite adjusted metrics that go way beyond the simple measures your uncle the stock picker used.

These numbers can be helpful, in both pursuits, but not as helpful as they appear. When the field of behavioral economics exploded on the scene some years back, venerable skeptic Charlie Munger inquired what sort of economics were not behavioral.

As in finance, outcomes in sports are determined by human behavior, which is more apt to be inexplicable and random than rational and predictable.

So if I can dabble in the stock market or in crypto, I can mine for more traditional coin, and keep my weekends interesting,  with speculation informed by 30 years or so as a sportswriter. This is the first of what I hope will be weekly missives during the NFL season after I’ve placed my bets.

If I’m terrible at it and lose the small pot of money I have allocated, these offerings will be short-lived. Thankfully, owing to their fierce competition for customers, most of the online sports books offer a variety of incentives, including “risk-free” initial bets that promise to compensate you for your loss with free additional bets worth the same amount. So you can find a first bet you really like, bet big, lose, and still have chits to play with for a while. Just as alcoholics should stay out of bars, gambling addicts should stay away from these apps.

I’m betting only on the NFL at present. Baseball and basketball play way too many games for the outcome of any single one to be more predictable than a coin flip. When the baseball playoffs arrive, I’ll take another look.

They say college football is a prime target because talent is not as evenly allocated as it is in the pros. That’s true, but odds and point spreads nullify obvious talent disparities, and college point spreads are often astronomical, making final scores dependent on factors other than trying to win the game.

So, anyway, the NFL it is. Here are my bets this week:

Arizona (-3.5) vs. Minnesota. At 24, Kyler Murray may be ready to demonstrate why he was the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. He was spectacular in a Week 1 blowout of what was thought to be a good Tennessee team, and he was spectacular mostly with his arm rather than his legs. The Vikings, meanwhile, were outlasted in Week 1 by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, suggesting their defensive issues a year ago remain unresolved.

L.A. Rams (-3.5)  at Indianapolis. It has been my contention for a long time that Matthew Stafford, the first overall draft pick a decade before Murray, could graduate to the ranks of championship contenders if he only had a decent team around him. Finally, after 12 years making the Lions look better than they were, he has that chance. In his first game with the Rams, on his first possession, he engineered a three-play, 80-yard drive against the Bears, culminating in a 67-yard touchdown pass. He and Sean McVay just might get along. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz had a pretty nice debut in Indy, but the Colts were dismantled by the Seahawks, who are comparable to the Stafford-led Rams offensively, but inferior defensively.

Buffalo (-3) at Miami. The Bills were oddly lethargic in their opener against Pittsburgh, with Josh Allen revisiting the accuracy issues he battled his first two years in the league. Still, this is a team that went 13-3 last year and played for the AFC championship, so I’m betting on a bounce-back. Meanwhile, the Dolphins edged the Patriots, but Tua Tagovailoa was uninspiring and won’t be facing a rookie counterpart in Week 2.

Seattle (-6) vs. Tennessee. I expect a bounce-back from the Titans, who can’t be as bad as they looked in Week 1, but the Seahawks are very good at home (7-1 last year) and Russell Wilson had an exquisite opener, suggesting the combination of rumors he might want out of Seattle and the hiring of two former McVay deputies to coordinate the offense might be just what Pete Carroll needed to ease up on the reins a bit. 

Green Bay (-11 in one bet, -11.5 in another) vs. Detroit. As big as this spread is, it doesn’t seem nearly big enough considering the circumstances. The Packers were embarrassed in their opener. Aaron Rodgers, who spent most of the offseason complaining about his situation, was horrendous. Returning to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, where he was 7-1 last season, should get him back on track. The Lions are a last-place team from a year ago who lost their best player in Stafford. If this isn’t a blowout, it will only be because Rodgers is pissed he didn’t get the Jeopardy! gig.

Las Vegas (+6.5) at Pittsburgh. This is my weakest conviction pick, and I made only one small bet on it, but I was surprised by how tough the Raiders played the Ravens in Week 1. They still have some defensive issues to be sure (30th in points allowed a year ago), but were surprisingly resilient against the most explosive offensive player in the game. They will suffer from the loss of Marcus Mariota (again) to injury. In his lone play of Week 1, he demonstrated the difficult adjustment he presents to defenses who have prepared for Derek Carr. Still, Carr has an impressive roster of offensive weapons. As for the Steelers, I suspect the size of this spread is partly based on their win over Buffalo, which had at least as much to do with the Bills’ no-show.

Lock of the week:

Denver (-6) at Jacksonville. A homer pick, I guess, but I had to look twice to make sure I wasn’t missing a digit in the spread. A few weeks into the season, this number would be bigger. The Jaguars are coming off a 1-15 season, starting over with rookies at coach and quarterback, and just gave up 37 points to the Texans, a team many analysts expected to be the worst in the league this year. The Broncos went into New York and did what they were supposed to do, beating the Giants convincingly. Their biggest question mark, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, was cool, resourceful and accurate. Yes, No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence will probably be a stud one day, and Urban Meyer might ultimately figure out the NFL, but both will take longer than a week. The Broncos should cover. Easily.

Oh, yes, just for fun, I placed a small wager on an AFC West parlay that pays 700% if the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers all win. That’s a lottery ticket. I’m not expecting it to hit and don’t recommend it.

Feel free to comment below if you’d like. Pretend your mother is listening. These missives come with an intemperance filter.

-30-


A stunning self-destruction

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A Broncos nightmare in New Jersey ended in a Seahawks celebration

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Super humbling of the highest-scoring team in NFL history began on the first play from scrimmage and continued pretty much unabated for the remainder of a deceptively warm and beautiful February evening just off Exit 16W of the Jersey Turnpike.

It was shocking in its suddenness and humiliating in its comprehensiveness. The Broncos played like a pickup squad that met for the first time an hour before kickoff.

The first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern climate turned out to be a travesty all right, but the environmental conditions were the one factor the Broncos couldn’t blame. The temperature at kickoff was 49, fully 10 degrees warmer than the coldest Super Bowl on record, back when they used to play outdoors in New Orleans.

If Mother Nature treated the Broncos well, she was alone. The Seattle Seahawks manhandled and dismantled them in every way imaginable on their way to a 43-8 blowout. Give them credit, as the Broncos kept saying afterward, but blame the Broncos, too. Their early wounds, the ones that set the doleful tone, were self-inflicted.

It began on the first play from scrimmage, when the Broncos’ first snap from their own 14-yard line sailed past Peyton Manning into the north end zone of MetLife Stadium. Somehow, the Broncos were lulled by the neutral site into believing they would be able to convey their signals verbally. Had the game been in Seattle, they would undoubtedly have used a silent snap count. Buried deep in their own end, enveloped by the boisterousness that always accompanies the beginning of a Super Bowl, Manning lined up in the shotgun and called for the ball.

Center Manny Ramirez failed to snap it. So Manning walked toward the line to reset the play. Ramirez, suddenly realizing he was late, chose that moment to snap the ball.

“That was on cadence, so it was about what he was saying,” a miserable Ramirez explained afterward. “It was really loud and I (thought) I heard him. Unfortunately, I was three seconds late.”

“A little bit of a cadence issue,” said head coach John Fox.

“I felt terrible for them,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “We didn’t deserve that. They just gave it to us.”

Running back Knowshon Moreno hustled back to the ball, turning the faux pas into a safety rather than a touchdown. It was a screw-up, but the damage was minimal. Twelve seconds into the game, the score was 2-0. It was the fastest score in Super Bowl history.

“That’s the way the start of any Super Bowl is,” said receiver Wes Welker, a veteran of three. “It’s going to be loud. The fans are going to be yelling. They don’t really know why they’re yelling, it’s just the start of the Super Bowl. We didn’t prepare very well for that, and it showed.”

Imagine that. A team that prided itself on preparation all season was unprepared for something that seemed obvious to a player who had been there before.

Following the required free kick, the Seahawks’ lightly-regarded offense marched 51 yards on its first possession, converting two third downs along the way. The Broncos again managed to minimize the damage, stopping the Seahawks about six inches short of a first down inside the 10-yard line and forcing a field goal. When Manning & Co. got the ball back, it was still only 5-0.

Following a three-yard gain on a running play, Manning completed the first two passes he threw — for two yards to Demaryius Thomas and three yards to Julius Thomas. Two completions, five yards. They had to punt.

The Seahawks began another march, using up most of the remainder of the first quarter. The Broncos’ defense once again limited the damage near the goal line, forcing another field goal when linebacker Nate Irving knocked an apparent touchdown pass out of the hands of wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.

The first quarter wasn’t over yet and the Broncos had already prevented two touchdowns on hustle plays by Moreno and Irving. Despite a disastrous start, the score was a manageable 8-0.

For the third time, Manning took the controls. For the third time, the crowd waited for the precision passing game that produced a record 606 regular-season points. A five-yard completion to Welker. A three-yard run from Moreno.

But wait. When Moreno was stopped, he was still on his feet. Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons ripped the ball from his grasp. Guard Zane Beadles made the Broncos’ third fortuitous play of the quarter, falling on the loose ball and preventing a turnover. Instead of third-and-2, now it was third-and-7.

Manning tried to convert it by hitting Julius Thomas, his tight end, up the middle, but Seahawks pass rusher Cliff Avril came around right tackle Orlando Franklin on a speed rush and Manning was forced to step up in the pocket to avoid him. He let loose a throw that wasn’t even close to its mark — a duck, as Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman would call it, both too high and behind the intended receiver. It landed gently in the arms of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, a room service interception.

“A poor play on my part,” Manning admitted afterward.

When the first quarter ended, the Seahawks had the ball at the Broncos’ 17-yard line on their way to a 15-0 lead. The Broncos had possessed the ball only momentarily, it seemed, mostly because they were in such a hurry to give it away whenever they did.

Yet another self-inflicted wound contributed to that first Seahawks touchdown. The Broncos defense, again playing damage control near its goal line, forced a third-and-4 from their 5-yard line. It was looking to limit Seattle to another field goal when nickel back Tony Carter face-guarded Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in the end zone while gripping his jersey, possibly the most obvious pass interference call of the season. This resulted in a first down at the 1. It still took the Seahawks two running plays to punch it in.

Three minutes into the second quarter, the most prolific offense in NFL history didn’t have a first down. Credit the Seahawks’ hard hitting or pass rush if you like, but if this was tennis, both the bad snap and errant throw would be ruled unforced errors.

Moments later, the Seahawks lived up to their reputation for creating turnovers. Avril again beat Franklin, this time pushing past him and hitting Manning’s arm as he threw. The ball fluttered like . . . well . . . yes . . . a wounded duck, directly into the arms of Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, whose 69-yard return for a touchdown would be the key to his Super Bowl MVP award a couple of hours later.

Now it was 22-0. Slightly more than three minutes remained in the first half. The Broncos desperately needed a score. Slowly, uncertainly, they began to matriculate down the field, in Hank Stram’s famous phrase from another era. They achieved a first down. Then another. Facing a manageable third-and-4 for yet another, Louis Vasquez, their best offensive lineman, was called for a false start. Yet another error. Maybe Seattle’s fearsome foursome made him do it, but still.

Moments later it was fourth-and-2. Fox decided to go for it.

“I’m thinking that three points wasn’t going to make a big difference in the game, and it proved to be true,” he explained.

At the snap, it looked like an uncovered Julius Thomas signaled to Manning for a simple pitch-and-catch that would move the chains. Instead, Manning looked the other way and threw the ball into the ground at the feet of Demaryius Thomas.

In the press box, in the stands, on social media and in living rooms all over Colorado, people who had watched this offense operate like a jet engine all season watched in astonishment as it sputtered like a lawn mower. Who were these guys?

It wasn’t just that the Broncos had switched hotels the night before the game, they appeared to have switched players, too. The replacements looked a lot like the guys they’d replaced. They even wore the same numbers. But they didn’t play anything like them.

The cherry on top came on the first play of the second half. Matt Prater, the Broncos’ Pro Bowl kicker who led the league with 81 touchbacks, inexplicably pooched the kickoff in an apparent attempt to keep it out of the hands of returner Percy Harvin. Kicking it out of the end zone, which Prater had done more often than any other kicker, would accomplish the same result.

Harvin had rushed twice in the first half for 45 yards. Rather than match strength with strength and let Prater try to boom the kickoff across the Hackensack River, the Broncos got cute. Harvin charged out of the end zone and the pooch bounced directly into his hands. Members of the Broncos’ coverage unit converged and knocked each other down as if playing electric football. Harvin took it all the way for a touchdown, 87 yards in all.

The Seahawks had again scored just 12 seconds into the half. This would converge with the narrative surrounding their 12th man — their fans, who arguably influenced the mistake that led to the first 12-second score — into a sort of mythic sense of numerological destiny.

More to the point, it was now 29-0 and the Broncos had shown themselves to be vulnerable in every phase of the game. No team had overcome a deficit greater than 10 points to win any of the previous 47 Super Bowls. At 2-0, 5-0, 8-0, 15-0, a Broncos comeback still seemed plausible, given their own precedents. Even at 22-0, a miraculous comeback from a team that averaged 37.9 points a game in the regular season seemed possible.

But the Harvin kickoff return dashed whatever hope remained. Not only was a 29-point deficit an insurmountable obstacle against the league’s best defense, the Broncos had shown little sign of even elementary competence. The more pertinent question seemed whether the Seahawks could impose the first shutout in Super Bowl history.

“We just weren’t real sharp executing our offense,” Manning said in perhaps the understatement of the season. “We got ourselves in a hole and we weren’t able to overcome it.”

Once the game was out of hand, the Broncos managed to roll up enough meaningless yards to make the final statistical comparisons look benign. In fact, of the six Super Bowl records set Sunday, four were by the Broncos. Of course, one of them was for most Super Bowl losses (five), which is not a record you want to hold. But Manning’s 34 pass completions were a record, as were Demaryius Thomas’ 13 catches. They were as hollow as any Super Bowl records ever set.

The Seahawks set records for fastest score to start a Super Bowl and most time playing with a lead (59 minutes, 48 seconds).

The cumulative record for losses in the big game might seem fastidious, conflating a 21st century result with games played in the 1970s and ’80s, but this one was eerily reminiscent of those losses in the ’80s, when the Broncos won the AFC in three out of four seasons and were blown out by successively larger margins in the ensuing Super Bowls — 39-20 by the Giants following the ’86 season, 42-10 by the Redskins following the ’87 season and 55-10, the worst blowout in Super Bowl history, by the 49ers following the ’89 season.

In each case, the result was disturbing and dispiriting. The Broncos had gone through a long season and postseason with the look of a champion, only to look utterly overmatched in the most important game of all. It’s hard to know how to react to such a dramatic reversal of fortune.

“I think we were playing a great football team,” Manning said. “I think we needed to play really well in order to win and we just didn’t come anywhere close to that . . . . Give Seattle credit. They’re an excellent football team and they caused a lot of our mistakes. But at the same time, we just didn’t play well tonight.”

Twenty-four hours after winning his record fifth Most Valuable Player award, Manning bristled when asked if the loss was embarrassing.

“It’s not embarrassing at all,” he said. “I would never use that word . . . The word embarrassing is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”

Welker was not so reticent.

“To get this far and lose like this, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

“They dominated us across the board,” said fellow receiver Eric Decker.

The Seahawks were exuberant, of course, having won so much more powerfully and easily than even they expected. The Broncos needed to credit them to save face, and certainly they kept Manning unsettled in the pocket and hit hard in the secondary, as is their reputation.

Still, the number of self-inflicted wounds made the Broncos look amateurish and unqualified for the game. They finished with four turnovers — two lost fumbles and two interceptions — to Seattle’s none. The third turnover, by Demaryius Thomas following a 23-yard, third-quarter completion deep in Seahawks territory when a comeback was still theoretically possible, verged on slapstick.

Which was a terrible shame, considering how well the Broncos played all season. You could empathize with Manning’s sense of dignity without agreeing with him that this was not an embarrassment.

On any given Sunday, and all that. They just picked the most important game of all to pull out a true stinker.

“We had some chances to get back into it,” said John Elway, the quarterback in those losses of the ’80s and now the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “We just couldn’t get it done.”

“This team used last year’s playoff loss to fuel us; I think it made us a better team,” Manning said. “Hopefully we can use this loss to fuel us and make us better.”

Maybe they will. Elway’s Broncos were unable to bounce back from the Super Bowl blowouts of the ’80s until nearly a decade later, but Manning’s team was so uncharacteristically bad, maybe it can turn this one around much faster.

Asked if the loss reminded him of those blowouts a generation ago, Elway replied: “No. Those are separate.”

Still, for all the praise Manning gets when he’s dominating opponents, it is only fair to point out his mediocre play when opponents dominate him. The Broncos’ oft-maligned defense wasn’t great in this game, but it was required to perform a great deal of damage control for its far more famous offense.

Manning completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards, many of them in garbage time, with one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of 73.5. His counterpart, second-year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the former Rockies farmhand, was 18 of 25 for 206 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.1. Wilson was clearly the better quarterback in this championship game.

“Offensively, we were clicking on all cylinders,” Wilson said. “That’s what we wanted to be, especially the last game of the season, to finish that way in that fashion. That’s our mindset. We want to be champions every day and bring it every time.”

Credit the Seahawks for playing a very sharp game. They deserve congratulations on winning their first NFL championship in very convincing fashion.

“We ran into a buzz saw,” Fox said.

That’s a little too easy. The Seahawks played very well, but the Broncos took themselves out of the game early by playing very badly. From a vantage point high above the action on a beautiful night for football in the New Jersey Meadowlands, it looked like the highest-scoring offense in NFL history mostly self-destructed.


Relax: Peyton Manning is right on schedule

Q: Obviously, no quarterback wants to take a big hit, but you took a big hit, bounced right back up. Was it nice just to kind of get that out of the way?

A: Yes.

Q: How’d you feel? I mean, was it . . . ?

A: Do what? How did I . . . ?

Q: I mean, that just tells you everything’s OK?

A: Yeah. Yeah.

This was my favorite exchange between Peyton Manning and the wretches Saturday night after preseason game No. 2. It was sort of a Saturday Night Live routine, complete with laughter from the other wretches at a colleague’s inability to elicit a quote on Manning’s much-anticipated first hit.

You may find it unsettling that a professional wretch was unable, in three tries, to frame a question that couldn’t be answered with a yes or no, but I’m here to tell you that horse left the barn a long time ago.

Everything about Saturday night’s practice game will be deconstructed, because that’s more fun than talking about unemployment, but it’s important to remember that it was only practice. The Broncos got out of it exactly what they wanted, at least in the first half.

As for the second half, which Seattle dominated thoroughly, the Broncos didn’t really need to be told that their second string isn’t very good because they already knew it. When your second-string linebacking corps consists of a disappointing draft pick from a year ago (Nate Irving) and two undrafted free agents (Jerry Franklin and Steven Johnson), depth at that position is not a strength. This is partially because of a suspension (D.J. Williams) and partially because of injuries (Danny Trevathan, Keith Brooking, Mike Mohamed).

Whether they knew their second-string offensive line would be unable to sustain any sort of running game I don’t know. Actually, their first-string offensive line didn’t do much better opening holes for runners, but it did earn Manning’s praise for its pass protection. He threw 23 passes before intermission without being sacked, although he did take that first hit as he was throwing a ball away.

The main thing Broncos brass learned about their second string is that rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler is not ready to step in if something happens to Manning. At least, he wasn’t Saturday night.

The Seahawks drafted their rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson, 18 picks after the Broncos selected Osweiler, but he looked much more ready for prime time. Of course, Osweiler started only one season at Arizona State, so he might be expected to take longer to get up to NFL speed. In the entire second half, he and the Broncos managed one first down while Wilson and the Seahawks piled up 16.

It would be nice to see Adam Weber get some work with the second team next week, although coach John Fox may feel now that Caleb Hanie needs those snaps to get ready for the season.

Luckily, once the games begin to count, entire second strings will not get much of a chance to play one another.

In the first half, with the first strings in the game, the Broncos dominated the statistics while the Seahawks dominated the time of possession. This is mostly because the Seahawks ran the ball successfully while the Broncos, with the exception of their lone touchdown drive, did not. Manning ran the no-huddle throughout, completing 16 of his 23 passes. That’s 69.6 percent, which is very good.

But he also made a couple of bad throws or bad decisions that turned into interceptions, ending two of his five possessions. Lance Ball fumbled to end a third. The other two would have been touchdowns except tight end Jacob Tamme dropped a pass in his hands at the goal line with 6 seconds left in the half and they had to settle for a field goal.

“Obviously disappointing that we turned the ball over three times, two interceptions on my part,” Manning said. “No excuse for that. I thought we did move the ball well at times and took some long drives. Just got to do a better job of finishing drives and have to eliminate the turnovers and keep our defense out of bad situations.”

What caused the interceptions?

“Every interception has its own story; nobody really wants to hear it at the end of the day,” Manning said.

“They’re interceptions. The quarterback signs the check on every ball that he throws. There’s an old saying that the most important part about every play is to possess the ball at the end of that play. That’s the quarterback’s job and I have to do a better job of that. Two interceptions tonight, two in the red zone two weeks in a row. Just can’t have it. Tipped balls, whatever it is, can’t have it. Gotta find a way to protect the ball better and ensure we get some kind of points when we’re down there in the red zone.”

Somebody asked what happened on the throw to Tamme at the goal line, trying to get Manning to say Tamme dropped it.

“It’s hard to say,” Manning said. “I didn’t see the film. It was an incomplete pass. We got the field goal there. I thought we had good field position. The penalty (unnecessary roughness on center J.D. Walton) put us in a tough spot. First and 21 from the 21 wasn’t ideal. Got back into decent field position and had a shot at it and obviously it would have been nice to have a little more time there, have a couple more downs. But Jacob Tamme is going to play a huge role for this team this year and it’s not a factor in my mind.”

In other words, No, I’m not throwing Jacob Tamme under the bus for dropping a ball, especially on a night when I threw two picks. Why are you asking me what happened there? Weren’t you watching?

The interceptions were both Manning mistakes. The first, on his fifth snap of the game, he threw right at Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant. Bryant was so surprised all he could do was bat it into the air, where linebacker K.J. Wright grabbed it. I don’t know if Manning failed to see Bryant or misread a zone drop or what, but he’ll certainly be able to tell from the video. Consider it a bit of rust after 19 months off.

The second was a third-and-10 where he tried to force a ball down the field to tight end Joel Dreessen to avoid a three-and-out. It overflew Dreessen directly into the arms of Seahawks strong safety Jeron Johnson. Dreessen wisely took the blame.

“I’ve got to find a way to make that catch, honestly,” he said. “I don’t know, I kind of stuck my hand up there and was like ‘Crap, I don’t know if I can reach it.’ I looked like a chicken. It looked like I gator-armed it. But I’ve got to find a way to make that play.”

From my vantage point in the press box, the ball looked overthrown into crowded coverage. After watching the video, I’m sure Manning will come to a conclusion about whether the pass or the decision to throw the pass was the mistake. Either way, judging by the look on his face afterward, I’m guessing he won’t make that particular mistake again.

This is a perfectionist who had multiple neck surgeries, sat out a full season and is now coming back with a new team, new playbook, new terminology and mostly new receivers. This is not like making instant coffee. With apologies to Allen Iverson, this is what practice is for.

There were stretches of really good offense that reminded you of Manning’s offenses in Indianapolis, punctuated by mistakes, by short circuits, that will send him, his coaches and his teammates back to work.

“We did a lot of good things and then we kind of did a few bad things,” said veteran receiver Brandon Stokley. “That’s what you take away from this game. You look at the mistakes that you made and you try to get those corrected. And if we get those corrected, we’ve got a chance to do some good things.”

As for the chemistry between Manning and his new receiving corps?

“We’re still working on it,” Stokley said. “It’s still a work in progress. We know that and we’re working hard every day in practice trying to get to be perfect. That’s what good offenses do. It takes time, and we’re trying to get there.”

Most years, fans would like to see fewer preseason games. This year, Broncos fans should wish for more. Fox extended Manning’s playing time in preseason game No. 2 from the usual quarter or so to a half.

“It’s nice to be back out there playing,” Manning said. “And I think the more I play, hopefully the more comfortable I will get. It will be nice next week, I think I’ll play probably into the third quarter. I think the flow of the game tonight is why we probably played into the half, which I was happy about, and I know the offense was happy about. You always want to score points every single time. I think we can build on this, but I still think there’s some things that we have to improve on, some things I need to improve on.”

For the crowd, the biggest play of the night was probably when Manning went down late in the second quarter as he was throwing the ball away, sandwiched between two Seahawks defenders. Finally, that first hit he’d been asked about for the last five months. It was as if it held its collective breath, waiting for him to get up.

When he climbed quickly to his feet, the crowd roared. When he hit Stokley in stride for a 22-yard gain on the next play — “a great ball, perfectly thrown, right when I cleared the defender the ball was there,” Stokley said — it roared some more.

“It was kind of weird to cheer an incomplete pass, just cheering a guy getting up,” Stokley said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to answer that question any more.”

Doctors have told Manning and Broncos officials for months that his neck is stronger than it’s ever been; the issue related to his surgery is the regeneration of the nerves that provide his arm strength.

Nevertheless, the myth took hold that a single tackle could end his comeback. So the play that was a big event for fans was a non-event for Manning and his mates. But it was another mile marker on the road back.

The wretches, of course, came back around to it, still looking for a quote. Had he heard the cheer?

“I might have, yes,” Manning allowed. “I’ve never heard a crowd cheer for an incompletion before.”

Was the best part getting over getting hit or not having to answer any more questions about it?

Once more, the form of the question gave Manning an out, and once more, as if reading a blown coverage, he took it:

“Both of them are just fine with me,” he said.