- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is the stone in a shoe headed for the Hall of Fame. It is the one thing that doesn't quite fit in a historical body of work.
But in a world where the banter that was once simply shared around the water cooler is now a real-time Twitter-verse, the question of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and a thermometer has consistently been raised. Especially in the wake of four neck surgeries, a missed season in 2011 and a double-overtime loss last January to the Baltimore Ravens.
"I don't even think we think about all that," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "You hear people talking about Peyton and cold weather, but what he's done in this league isn't a question to anybody who has been around him. When things happen, everybody is always looking for reasons. Usually if you don't win, your team just wasn't good enough, that's the bottom line. The whole team wasn't good enough when we lost in the AFC Championship here [in 2005] and it didn't matter what the temperature was."
Yet, according to research done by ESPN's Stats & Information Group, Manning is 3-7 in the regular season and postseason combined in games where the game-time temperature was 32 degrees or colder. Considering Manning has played 256 regular-season and postseason games combined, that is just 3.9 percent of his career games.
And in those 10 games, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes to go with 12 interceptions and his completion percentage is 59.4 percent, well below his career average of 65.4. His 214.1 passing yards per games in those 10 outings are also well below his average of 269.5 yards per game over his career.
For the Broncos, Manning's overall sample size is 28 regular-season games and the playoff loss to the Ravens. He is 23-6 as a starter for Denver in those games with 80 touchdowns and has averaged more than 300 yards per game. They are staggering totals, but the scoreboard on a frigid day in January said the Broncos let home-field advantage slip away and the Broncos' loss in frigid Foxborough, Mass., last month was, for some, confirmation the phrase cold shoulder means something else entirely for Manning.
Asked Wednesday if he thinks he's a different player in cold weather, Manning simply said, "I don't."
Asked why he believed he wasn't a different quarterback in cold weather, he added only, "That's not how I feel, so … did I miss the question?"
"Those are people who have a lot of time on their hands that go back and figure those things out," said Titans head coach Mike Munchak, who has faced Manning 19 times as a Titans assistant or head coach. "He's a great football player, I don't think we'll be caught up worrying about that just because it's a certain amount of degrees he may not play well … He's special to watch and we know first-hand from seeing this offense what he can do on a football field, no matter what the weather is."
It all comes to light because Manning himself has said the grip in his right (throwing) hand was affected by his neck surgeries. The narrative from some has been, over the course of Manning's career, that he struggled in cold weather before because his team played its home games in a dome when he was in Indianapolis.
Now that he plays for the Broncos, a team that routinely practices outside in almost any weather, because to practice inside they currently have to load up buses and go to a nearby recreation center, the narrative is the cold-weather play is the product of his surgery.
It has gotten lost at times that Manning did finish last January's playoff game with 290 yards passing to go with three touchdowns with those two interceptions, the second of which ended the Broncos' last drive. And against the Patriots last month, Manning led a late drive to tie the game at 31-31 in regulation. The Patriots kicked the winning field goal in overtime only after a punt hit Tony Carter in the leg, giving the Patriots the field position they needed for the victory.
Manning's throws, particularly scoring tosses to tight end Jacob Tamme and a sideline route to Demaryius Thomas, were as good as a quarterback can make "in any weather, any time, any where," as Bailey put it.
"In the New England game, I was impressed how our guys dealt with it," Fox said. "Did it end up right? No. We lost a turnover battle and that had more to do with it than weather."
The Broncos, at 10-2, are poised to have home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs if they simply hold serve over the final four weeks of the regular season against four teams that do not have a winning record among them. But the temperature at kickoff Sunday for the Broncos' game against the Titans is slated to be about 15 degrees and dropping as the game wears on.
And the temperature at kickoff for the home game that follows just days later could be that cold, or a playoff game in Denver could be that cold. The Super Bowl could be that cold with the Giants' and Jets' open-air home field in East Rutherford, N.J., as that's the site of the league's title game.
Manning has made one visible concession to cold or inclement weather in his post-surgery career. He now wears a fitted glove on his throwing hand in the rain, cold and snow. He wore gloves on both hands in New England when he threw for 150 yards and wore a glove on his throwing hand this past weekend in Kansas City when he finished with 403 yards and five touchdowns.
"It's just part of the adjustment I've kind of had to make," Manning said. "I've said that I've had to make a lot of changes at this point in my career. I'm kind of coming off an injury and different team. It's just been part of the adjustment … and still working through it kind of each time that I wear it."
Manning said he experimented with other gloves previously in his career, including during his time with the Colts, but that he "never just quite found a pair that I liked," until his current set.
In the end, the cold may always be a topic as long as Manning plays, or at least as long he loses more than he wins when the temperature drops. But Fox said in the two most recent cases a defensive breakdown on a Ravens prayer late in regulation and a bouncing punt against the Patriots were at the root of the losses.
"I don't think where you're located that you every really get used to really cold weather," Fox said. "I don't think you grow thicker skin because you live in it. I don't think it's a physiological thing, I think a lot of it is mental, just dealing with the elements. That could be a torrential downpour, it could be a snowstorm … And if we won those games we wouldn't be talking about the weather right now."