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The Week In Sports: Manning Down, Russia's Scandal


Time now for sports.


MARTIN: Oh, man, Peyton Manning is hurting. He's got sore ribs, a torn ligament in his left foot. That means backup Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler gets his first NFL start today, leading Denver against the Bears in Chicago. Manning didn't even make the trip, according to the team. He's back in Colorado working on getting healthy. So the question is, will number 18 be back this year? Mike Pesca is the host of Slate's The Gist. He joins me now to talk about Manning's fate. Good morning, Mike.


MARTIN: So what do you think? Peyton Manning, coming back to the Broncos, taking up golf? Like, what - what's happening?

PESCA: More commercials maybe.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah, he's doing a lot of those.

PESCA: Yeah, he's good at singing. He has, actually, plantar fasciitis in his foot, which is one of those injuries that the only way to cure it is not to walk on it, not to run on it, not to play football on it. So I don't think that he's coming back anytime soon. And it would also seem to be the case that the Broncos might be better off without Peyton Manning. What?


PESCA: And it's just because their defense is so good - so good. They're the only team who holds opponents under 200 yards passing. And they also lead the league in holding opponents under 90 yards rushing. They're great, great defense - the kind of defense that even a competent quarterback could take to a Super Bowl. Now, the thing is, for his whole career, Peyton Manning has been more than competent. And even though he's 39 years old, you know, last year he was 38, he had a tremendous year. They had a 13-and-3 record under Manning. Sure, the Broncos are 7 and 2 now. He's leading the league in interceptions. His - the physical diminution of skills is profound. Brock Osweiler, the backup, might be the guy to deliver the Broncos to the Super Bowl this year.

MARTIN: What does it - what does it look like, psychologically, for Peyton Manning? I mean, I guess it - how much of this is his choice?

PESCA: This is a great question. So it is true that he doesn't have the arm he used to. He did - he might have one of the worst arms in just terms of throwing strength in the NFL. But fascinatingly, he has been able to use his mind for the last few years. I mean, he got them to a Super Bowl a couple years ago on a - he had a great season - 50-some - 55 touchdowns, I think. And he wasn't even that good a quarterback in terms of physical skills. But he was so much smarter than every defense that he knew how to win the game. Now, in other sports, when there is a physical diminution of skills, you see athletes adjust. You see Michael Jordan go from a guy who would drive the ball to a guy who would do jump shooting. But I think Peyton Manning redefined how the brain can beat another team. But there comes a point when the body is so far behind the brain. And we're seeing that now with Peyton Manning. Tom Brady, only a year younger than Peyton, he has also had a drop-off in skills. But they're good enough that he's still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Manning's not there anymore.

MARTIN: Brady, my nemesis.

PESCA: That guy.

MARTIN: OK, curveball, real quick.

PESCA: Yeah, they - there was a number of great college football games yesterday. I want to talk about a game that two three-win teams played. It ended - Kansas State just threw this game away. They were leading 35 to - sorry, Iowa State was leading 35 to 14 against Kansas State at halftime. And their last four possessions went fumble, punt, fumble, fumble, including the second to last possession, where all the quarterback needed to do was take a knee. The coach said, hey, run the ball. That was one of those fumbles I talked about. It was quite a debacle for Iowa State.

MARTIN: Mike Pesca. His podcast is called The Gist. Hey, Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.