The Manning Domino Effect

How a neck surgery changed the landscape of the NFL.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

It all started with some neck pain and a little arm weakness. 

But it was enough for quarterback Peyton Manning to go in for surgery; a surgery that would knock him out for the entire 2011 season. 

The possibility of Manning missing the season brought Kerry Collins out of retirement to take over for the Indianapolis Colts, but a concussion knocked him out for the year.  In steps Curtis Painter. 

Eight games later Painter was out as the quarterback of an 0-11 team. 

So the Colts said next man up, and that man was Dan Orlovsky, a quarterback who up until then was best known for accidentally running out of the back of the end-zone for a safety as the quarterback of the 2008, 0-16 Detroit Lions.  Orlovsky would lead the Colts to a 2-3 record in their final five games, avoiding becoming the second team in four years to go winless in a season.

Meanwhile in Denver, the Broncos were going into the 2011 season with a quarterback controversy on their hands, but it was only a controversy to people not named John Fox and John Elway.  Both Elway and Fox had their minds made up from day one, Kyle Orton was their starter, Brady Quinn was his backup, and Tim Tebow was the #3. But that would change before the season was over.

Orton struggled early and the Broncos started the season 1-4.  Chants from the stands of "TEBOW" grew louder with each interception and later with each incompletion by Orton.  In an attempt to show the fans that they're not management for a reason, Fox put Tebow in as the starting quarterback in week six against the Miami Dolphins.  That game against Miami was pretty much a metaphor for the season for Tebow.  Three quarters of absolutely horrible football while the Denver defense kept the game close enough for Tebow to attempt to lead a fourth quarter comeback. 

But Tebow inexplicably did lead that comeback, and would continue to lead comeback after comeback despite being one of, if not the worst thrower in the league.  Tebow would lead the Broncos to an 8-8 record and the playoffs, but it was always clear that Fox and Elway did not feel comfortable with Tim going into the future.

As the NFL season ended and another Super Bowl champion was crowned, attention was turned back to Indianapolis and Peyton Manning. 

The Colts' 2-14 record had guaranteed them the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, a pick that Indy is expected to use on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a prospect many believe to be the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning, and possibly since John Elway.  So Colts owner Jim Irsay and Manning would lead the sports world in a dance around an obvious conclusion, Peyton would not be back in Indianapolis.

On March 7th Manning was released, and for 12 days the NFL waited to see where he would land.  During that time the Colts and Broncos would undergo a full overhaul at the quarterback position.  Kyle Orton, who finished the season in Kansas City, would sign as a free-agent with the Dallas Cowboys.  Brady Quinn, who was unfairly leapfrogged by Tebow, would join the Chiefs.  Dan Orlovsky would turn that 2-5 record into a deal to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Kerry Collins went back into retirement.  Curtis Painter, who went 0-6 as a starter in 2011, is still unemployed.

Then on March 19th, Manning decided he wants to be a Denver Bronco.  Elway and Fox's dreams were answered, they had a real quarterback.  Only two days later the Broncos would jettison (pun intended) Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, for a 4th and 6th round draft pick.  The biggest circus in the NFL now had a new act in their sideshow: Tebowmania; an act that gives fans false hopes for greatness before ending unwanted and on a bench. 

And so the last domino fell on an amazing year, a year that all started with some neck pain and a little arm weakness.