The journey for No. 2 was enhanced Sunday with the acquisition of No. 1. Manning was especially sharp, throwing three touchdown passes in the Broncos' name-their-score, 38-3 whipping of the pathetic Kansas City Chiefs before a bundled but satisfied sellout crowd at Sports Authority Field.
In the locker room afterward, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen presented the game ball to his coach John Fox, who picked up his 100th career NFL victory. Fox told his owner he hoped to get him three more before the season was out.
"Coach Fox made a point for us to take a day to reflect on what we have done this season," Manning said. "I know I'll certainly do that. It's been quite a year for me. It's been like no other year I've been through."
The crowd delivered a standing ovation to the Broncos' defense as it moved from the south side to the north between the third and fourth quarters. And the fans chanted "MVP!" for Manning as the final seconds ticked off.
In his first season with the Broncos, Manning set several single-season franchise records and surpassed numerous NFL milestones. Most importantly, he helped Denver secure the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. The Broncos' 11th consecutive victory, coupled with the Houston Texans' second straight loss, means the AFC playoffs will go through Denver.
"The Super Bowl is what it's all about with Peyton," said Broncos star cornerback Champ Bailey. "He's such a team guy. Individual awards are great I'd love to see him get the MVP but at the same time, I know what he really wants is that ring."
Manning and the Broncos will get a bye week from the playoffs' first round. In the second round on Jan. 12, the Broncos will stay home to play most likely against the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 4-seed Baltimore and Manning's previous team, the No. 5 Indianapolis Colts.
"It's a damn good feeling right now," said Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen. "It will be nice to take a week off and watch everybody else go at it."
Entering the regular-season finale Sunday, the NFL's MVP race was between Manning and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. It's possible Peterson is now the frontrunner after he finished the season with 2,097 rushing yards, the second most in NFL history, and powered the Vikings to the playoffs with a 37-34 win against Green Bay.
But Manning also stamped his candidacy Sunday while wearing a Broncos' orange-and-blue glove to protect his right throwing hand from the December chill. The glove was more aid than hindrance as Manning completed 23 of 29 for 304 yards, three TDs and a robust 144.8 passer rating in three quarters. "You know, for wearing it for the first time in my career, I guess you could say it's been OK," Manning said.
It was nearly two years ago that Manning played in the 2010-season Pro Bowl, then went down with a neck injury that eventually required four surgeries to repair. It forced him to miss the entire 2011 season with the Colts, and led Indianapolis to release him so it could begin anew with a No. 1 draft choice named Andrew Luck.
Manning's first regular season with the Broncos is now in the books: A team-record 400 completions for a team-record 4,659 yards and a team-record 37 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions.
"I had no real expectations for what this year would be like," he said."So I don't know if you can exceed expectations if you never really had any. But it's been a gratifying regular season and very humbling."
More importantly, Manning led the Broncos to a 13-3 record not a team record but their first No. 1 playoff seeding since their 1998 Super Bowl team set the record with a 14-2 regular-season mark.
Saturday, Jan. 5
Cincinnati at Houston, 2:30 p.m, Ch. 5
Minnesota at Green Bay, 6 p.m., Ch. 13
Sunday, Jan. 6
Indianapolis at Baltimore, 11 a.m., Ch. 2
Seattle at Washington, 2:30 p.m., Ch. 13 Broncos 38,Chiefs 3
Kansas City 0 3 0 0 3
Denver 7 14 14 3 38
Den • Moreno 3 run (Prater kick), 9:56.
KC • FG Succop 23, 14:53.
Den • Decker 11 pass from Manning (Prater kick), 5:32.
Den • Decker 16 pass from Manning (Prater kick), :10.
Den • D.Thomas 13 pass from Manning (Prater kick), 9:10.
Den • Ball 1 run (Prater kick), 1:04.
Den • FG Prater 42, 8:09.
Attendance • 76,502.
First downs 8 32
Total Net Yards 119 488
Rushes-yards 28-93 43-172
Passing 26 316
Punt Returns 1-11 2-7
Kickoff Returns 3-69 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 7-16-0 25-33-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-23 0-0
Punts 8-46.6 3-44.7
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-32 5-30
Time of Possession 22:30 37:30
Rushing • Kansas City, Charles 14-53, Draughn 5-23, Gray 2-9, Hillis 5-4, Quinn 2-4. Denver, Ball 15-66, Hester 7-55, Moreno 15-44, Hillman 3-13, Osweiler 3-(minus 6).
Passing • Kansas City, Quinn 7-16-0-49. Denver, Manning 23-29-0-304, Osweiler 2-4-0-12.
Receiving • Kansas City, Moeaki 2-21, Wylie 2-11, Charles 1-14, McCluster 1-5, Draughn 1-(minus 2). Denver, D.Thomas 7-122, Decker 7-76, Stokley 3-49, Green 2-19, Dreessen 2-15, Tamme 1-13, Moreno 1-10, Hester 1-7, Willis 1-5.
Missed Field Goals • Kansas City, Succop 33 (WL).