It took Peyton Manning two seasons to turn the floundering Colts into a playoff team and not much longer to make them a perennial Super Bowl contender.
He kept Indy's title hopes alive through good times and bad, with makeshift offenses and teams dotted with Pro Bowlers. So when the only four-time MVP in league history was released by Indianapolis in March 2012, he went to Denver and did it all again.
Since Manning joined the Broncos, Denver has the best regular season record in football (19-3), has won 17 straight regular-season games and Manning is off to the fifth 6-0 start of his career. As he returns to Indy (4-2) on Sunday, Colts fans could argue this isn't even his greatest stretch. In 16 NFL seasons, Manning has compiled five official double-digit winning streaks — the most by any NFL quarterback since 1950, according to STATS. The NFL doesn't recognize a sixth such streak because it includes four straight playoff wins.
So what are Manning's top streaks? Here's a stab at it:
BROKEN RECORD: Manning spent most of his career chasing the New England Patriots. So it seemed fitting when he rallied the Colts past New England en route to winning the Super Bowl after the 2006 season. Three years later, he did it again, breaking one of the Pats' most cherished records — 21 consecutive regular-season wins.
It was typical Manning. With the Colts playoff hopes fading after a 3-4 start in 2008, Manning almost single-handedly willed an injury-riddled team to nine straight wins and a wild-card berth. The next year, Manning opened the season by going 14-0, breaking the Pats' record with a win over Denver in Indy and extending the mark to 23 with a win at Jacksonville. The Colts pulled Manning and the other starters in the third quarter against the Jets, who rallied for a 29-15 victory to end the streak in Week 16.
CURRENT AFFAIRS: While it's not the longest streak of Manning's career, the franchise quarterback is playing his best football this season with 22 TD passes and two interceptions — all coming at age 37 and less than two years removed from the only major injury of his career (neck). He won the last 11 regular-season games a year ago to help the Broncos earn the AFC's top seed, but Denver lost to Baltimore. This year, Denver is chasing the league record for scoring in a season. The Broncos could be even more imposing when cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Von Miller round into form after missing the early part of the season.
NEARLY PERFECT PEYTON: Fast starts have been a common theme throughout Manning's career. His first serious brush with perfection came in 2005 when the Colts started 13-0. It was the best defense Manning hard around him in Indy and all that stood between the Colts and Perfect Peyton living up to his nickname were home games against San Diego and Arizona and a trip to Seattle. San Diego surprised the Colts in Week 15, and Indy lost the following week to eventual NFC champion Seattle after coach Tony Dungy left the team following the death of his son. Indy never recovered and was eliminated by Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in the divisional round.
SUPER STREAK: Officially, this one doesn't count. But how can the most rewarding streak of Manning's career not make the list? The streak ran from Dec. 31, 2006, through Oct. 28, 2007,and might have been the most improbable streak. Manning will never forget it. After struggling against the run all season and giving up 375 yards on the ground to Jacksonville in December, the Colts won their regular-season finale to earn the third seed in the playoffs, then suddenly figured out how to play defense. They shut down Larry Johnson in a wild-card game, won a touchdown-less game in Baltimore and then rallied to beat New England. Part One of the streak ended with Manning's MVP performance against Chicago in the Super Bowl. Indy opened the next season 7-0, but that was just gravy.
SURPRISE PARTY: In 1999, the Colts were coming off of two straight 3-13 seasons. Nobody expected Indy to make the playoffs. After starting 2-2, Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison put it all together. The Colts reeled off 11 straight wins to claim their first AFC East title since 1987. The 10-game improvement from '98 to '99 remains the biggest one-season turnaround in league history, matched only by Miami in 2008.
DOUBLE DUTY: One season makes the list twice — 2006. Yes, Manning ended the year with five straight wins, but he also started the season 9-0 despite the defensive woes. Adding the 2005 regular season finale makes it, officially, a 10-game streak. The fast start was a key part of getting the third seed, and this streak came in the midst of a three-year span when the Colts started at least 7-0 each season, won a division title each year and were nearly unbeatable at home (21-3).
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