BRONCOS

Russell Wilson’s first year as a Bronco isn’t anything like Peyton Manning’s

May 16, 2022, 6:00 AM
Russell Wilson Peyton Manning...
(Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

There’s a growing contingent of people in Broncos Country who are trying to temper expectations. Before the season ever starts, they’re already offering a reason why Denver won’t compete for the AFC West title, let alone make a Super Bowl run, in their first season with Russell Wilson at quarterback.

Their argument is a simple one:

It took some time for the Broncos to hit their stride when Peyton Manning came to town, so it’s reasonable to expect the same thing to happen with Wilson.

Historically speaking, this isn’t untrue.

In 2012, Denver started the season 2-3, and were trailing 24-0 at halftime in Week 6 at San Diego, before they finally righted the ship. The Broncos rallied to beat the Chargers and didn’t lose another regular-season game, finishing 13-3 and capturing the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Like Manning, Wilson will have to get acclimated to new surroundings. He has new teammates and a new coaching staff, a big change after a decade in Seattle.

But the assumption that the Broncos sputtered early in the 2012 season because Manning was still getting comfortable is flawed. While it might’ve been a factor, it was far from the only reason why Denver started slowly.

At the top of the list was Manning’s health. He missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing four neck surgeries. He had to totally revamp his game, learning to throw a football in a new way. At one point, he couldn’t toss the ball more than five yards. He had a lack of feeling in his hand that required him to wear a glove during most of his games in orange and blue.

Wilson isn’t dealing with anything remotely close to that situation. While he had a finger injury last season, he only missed three games. He was back on the field by the end of the year.

The Broncos new quarterback is going through a normal offseason. Manning was trying to return after not playing football for 17 months. It’s night and day. It’s apples and oranges.

In addition, Denver’s 2012 schedule was more difficult. They lost in Week 2 at Atlanta. The Falcons started the season 8-0. The Broncos fell the next week at home to the Texans. Houston finished the season 12-4. And they dropped another game in Week 5 at New England. The Patriots finished the season 12-4 and advanced to the AFC title game.

This year, the Broncos open with two teams not expected to make the playoffs. The Seahawks are projected to be the worst team in the NFC West, while the Texans are supposed to be the cellar dweller in the AFC South. That’s followed by a home game against the 49ers, a trip to Las Vegas to play the Raiders and a Thursday nighter at Empower Field against the Colts.

San Francisco could be breaking in a young quarterback in Trey Lance. The Raiders have a new head coach. And the Colts have to travel on a short week.

If the Broncos don’t start the season 4-1, it’ll be a disappointment. And given how their season ends, with six playoff-caliber teams in their final six games, they can’t afford any ramp up time. They have to hit the ground running in Week 1.

There will be no excuses if they don’t. What happened a decade ago doesn’t matter.

Manning’s first year in Denver was vastly different from Wilson’s initial campaign. It’s time to stop trying to force a correlation.

The Broncos new quarterback has plenty of time to get to know his new teammates. He has months to get on the same page with Nathaniel Hackett.

Denver didn’t start 2-3 in 2012 because Peyton Manning was still learning the names of his receivers and figuring out Adam Gase’s offense. To suggest that was the case is revisionist history.

That situation was completely different than this year. It’s time to stop comparing the two.

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