ASHBURN, Va. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning waves his arms, shouts signals and tries to confuse the defense -- either with an audible or with a false call. He’s one of the best in the NFL, perhaps the best, at doing this and at knowing what the defense wants to do.
“It’s definitely somewhat of a chess match,” Fletcher said. “But he’s definitely a master chess player.”
Fletcher and Manning have been two of the most successful players from the class of 1998. You can’t say draft class because Fletcher wasn’t drafted. Manning, though, went No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts. Yet here they both still are, Manning with the Broncos (his second team) and Fletcher with the Redskins (his third). Both have won a Super Bowl, albeit with other teams. Manning never missed a game until sitting out the 2011 season -- and he hasn't missed one since returning. Fletcher, of course, has played in 246 consecutive games.
Ironically, after Sunday the Redskins will have faced the remaining members of that 1998 class: Oakland Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson; Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck; Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly. Manning and Woodson both went in the top 5; Hasselbeck and Mannelly were sixth-round picks.
“Us old graybeards out there,” Fletcher said. “[Manning] don’t wear a beard, but I do. If he did, he’d probably have some greys in his beard as well. It’s not a lot of guys left from ’98.”
There’s a kinship that develops knowing you came out in the same year. Fletcher might not want to see Manning fare well Sunday, but he’s glad to see him still performing at a high level.
“I like to see that. I take pride in that to see him playing at the level he’s playing at,” Fletcher said. “He’s off to the best start I think he’s ever had so that says something about him, his preparation, his work ethic, the things he’s done to get himself back to this level.”
To which Manning says: right back at ya.
“For him to always answer the bell every Sunday, it tells you how tough he is. It tells you also what a professional he is,” Manning said, “keeping himself in great shape and taking care of himself. But also, there’s real want-to in that. There’s no question. He’s had tons and tons of injuries, but he always answers the bell. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen. A smart veteran and really kind of the leader of that defense -- gets them lined up. It’s always a challenge playing against London.”