INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning has already broken the NFL's most coveted single-season record. The next one could solidify his claim to the greatest season ever by a quarterback.
With a decent game at Denver, or perhaps just a decent couple of series depending on how much the Indianapolis Colts play their starters Sunday, Manning could shatter Steve Young's league mark for passer rating.
Young finished 1994 with a rating of 112.8. Manning enters the regular-season finale at 121.4.
"I was with Steve in San Francisco when he had a 112.8 and I thought that would be impossible to break," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "It tells you what I think."
Talking records, especially those considered untouchable, has become part of Manning's routine.
He spent the last three weeks downplaying the quest to break Dan Marino's record for touchdown passes, even as the questions increased. The tension was reflected in Manning's expressions, answers and, coach Tony Dungy acknowledged, in the Colts' play against San Diego last weekend. But he did break the record with his 49th scoring pass of the season to help the Colts edge the Chargers.
So when Manning was asked about his next record quest Wednesday, he reverted to a familiar tactic.
"You know I never really understood how the passer rating is constructed," Manning said Wednesday. "But I do realize I have chance to have the top one this year. I think it would be a nice team accomplishment."
Manning has never been coy about setting high goals.
After winning the co-MVP award last year and signing a seven-year deal worth $98 million, he almost immediately began talking about numbers many people thought were implausible - a 70 percent completion percentage and single-digit interceptions.
Yet he has delivered in almost every measurable way.
He'll likely finish with the fewest passes (495) of his seven-year career, but Manning already has set career-highs in yards (4,551), touchdowns (49) and is on pace to finish with a career-best 67.7 percent completion percentage. He also has just 10 interceptions, tied for his career low.
It's never been about numbers, records or celebrations in Manning's mind. He's more interested in leading the Colts to their first Super Bowl since 1970.
"Our goal every year is to play our best football in December and January and try to keep our momentum going," he said. "I'm just glad we're still playing football."
His numbers are so good, though, it's almost impossible not to notice.
Players like Brandon Stokley and Marcus Pollard have talked for weeks about Manning's achievements, his poise, his work ethic, his ability to dissect defenses without hesitation.
Even the stoic Dungy said that in his 26 NFL seasons, he's only been around one player - Warren Moon in Minnesota - who has done anything resembling what Manning has achieved this year.
But to Dungy, the most remarkable part of Manning's season hasn't been the touchdowns. It's the combination of TDs, yards, completion percentage and lack of interceptions - the components that derive passer rating.
At this rate, Manning would break Young's record by nearly 8 points. Young barely broke the previous mark, Joe Montana's 112.4. The next highest mark belongs to Cleveland's Milt Plum, 110.4 in 1960.
"Usually, you inch records along, so you'd expect it to be 114 or 115," Dungy said. "He's played at a phenomenal level. I still don't know what 121 means, but as Muhammad Ali said - if it's good, he is."
Manning said without three 1,000-yard receivers, the AFC's leading rusher in Edgerrin James and an offensive line that has allowed the NFL's fewest sacks, his passer rating would likely be much lower.
"The pass protection has been good, receivers have been catching balls, our running game has been fantastic, and that all goes into it," he said. "I've been happy with the way we've played for the most part this year, and I felt like I've done my part."
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