What could be worse than seeing Peyton Manning torch the Colts on Sunday night? Seeing him combine with a rookie receiver from IU to do it.
That may be the bittersweet view as Manning seeks redemption against his old team and wide receiver Cody Latimer gets thrust into the national TV spotlight.
The first is expected; the second was not.
The former Colts quarterback spent this week talking about the Denver-Indy matchup as just another game; although, on Wednesday he said season-openers always have a playoff atmosphere.
If you thought last season’s homecoming game was hyped, imagine the atmosphere now in the Denver locker room as the Broncos seek revenge after a 39-33 loss.
Manning was solid that night, but Luck was better, throwing for three scores and running for another without a miscue.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to play these guys again, because that would mean we made the playoffs,” Manning said at the time. “I think if there is a next time it may be a little bit easier just because it was somewhat of an emotional week and it can be a little bit draining; I will say that.”
That rematch did not happen in the playoffs but instead falls in a high-profile opening game.
Manning is a legend; Luck is on his way.
“To be honest, even since Day One here, it hasn’t been an issue. I never came in saying, ‘Oh, I have to replace a legend, one of the greatest of all-time,’” Luck said Wednesday. “Professional sports people, they come and they go. Someone’s going to replace me eventually, hopefully later rather than sooner.”
Which players are not here this time might be as important as the two dueling quarterbacks.
Denver wide receiver Wes Welker and Colts linebacker Robert Mathis are sitting out four-game suspensions for violations of the NFL drug policy. Matt Prater, the Broncos’ long-range kicker, also is out, serving an alcohol-related suspension.
Welker will be missed (seven catches for 96 yards in the 2013 game). But the Broncos have a worthy replacement in Latimer, their No. 2 draft pick.
Latimer, whom the Broncos featured in Welker’s slot position in the preseason, has “the making of a star,” one Denver scribe wrote this week.
“The talent is there, and the Broncos might accelerate the original schedule they had for developing the rookie over the 2014 season,” Cecil Lammey of Bleacher Report said.
On the other side of the ball, Mathis will be sorely missed.
The Colts sacked or put Manning under duress on 17 of his 53 dropbacks (32.1 percent). It was the most times he was under such pressure in a game since 2009.
Mathis provided the game-changing play, with a second-quarter strip sack of Manning for a safety.
He won’t be there this time, and that is a significant loss for Indy.
But this game really comes down to a duel between two excellent gunslingers — Manning and Luck.
“Regular-season season-opener, it doesn’t get much bigger than this aside from the postseason,” Manning said. “I’ve always said opening day, opening night, is a playoff-type atmosphere. I am tired of talking. I am looking forward to playing some real football.”
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.