(Reuters) - Peyton Manning can lift one of the few clouds hanging over his career and confirm his status as one of the gridiron’s greats after guiding the Denver Broncos into the Super Bowl with a win over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
There is no disputing the four-time National Football League most valuable player’s Hall of Fame credentials, but with just one Super Bowl ring where he ranks among the sport’s best is open to debate.
Two seasons removed from missing a year due to neck surgeries, Manning produced a campaign for the ages setting a single season marks for touchdown passes (55) and yards (5,477).
With Manning at the controls of Denver’s powerhouse offense, the Broncos scored a record 606 points, 161 ahead the next closest pursuer.
Certainly Broncos head coach John Fox, who overcame his own serious health issue, missing a month of the regular season after undergoing heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, knows where his quarterback ranks among the greats following a 26-16 win over the Patriots.
”He’s been remarkable, it’s unprecedented what he did,“ said Fox. ”A year ago it was a very unusual injury he was coming off of.
“To get where he finished that season and started this year off and to have that kind of season, not just today but all season long, to me is pretty remarkable.”
After 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, not even Manning was uncertain how long it would take to recover from his surgery and adjust to a new team.
But after just two years in the Mile High city, Manning has the Broncos back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years.
”Nobody could give me a real time table predictions as far as physical recovery,“ recalled Manning. ”I had never switched teams before. I had no idea how long it would take to get to form some chemistry offensively, to get comfortable into the culture. I think it just depends on the individual how quickly you mesh with the new team mates.
”I put a lot of hard work in, a lot of people team mates, coaches, trainers have helped me along way.
“We have come a long way in two years.”
With the Broncos tipped as Super Bowl favorites right from the start of season, Manning has been under mounting pressure to prove once-and-for-all that he can also get the job done when it counts most and turn his record-smashing campaign into a Super Bowl title.
Standing between Manning and a trip to New Jersey and a February 2 showdown against the Seattle Seahawks for the Vince Lombardi trophy was his longtime rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Manning and the top seeded Broncos cleared that hurdle with relative ease to win the AFC championship and a Super Bowl ticket.
”He played great. He certainly is one of the greatest players to ever play,“ praised Brady. ”He had a very good day, their defense played good we just didn’t get enough pressure on that team.
”I just wished him luck.
“I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a great player, competitor and he played great today.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Gene Cherry