Playoffs only drama left for Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning and the Broncos are geared toward a distant vision: the postseason. Aaron Ontiveroz/Getty Images

DENVER -- Peyton Manning was in a hurry Monday night. After one of the sharpest games of his Hall of Fame career, he hustled into the Denver Broncos' locker room. Then he jumped into a cold tub. He emerged after 20 minutes, dressed and spoke to reporters with his teeth still chattering and his hands stuffed deeply in his pockets.

"Short week," he said, gasping for air as he warmed up. "Trying to recover."

No sir. Manning didn't take a single moment to consider what he accomplished during the Broncos' 37-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders. He didn't seem to care a lick, as he might say, about becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 12 touchdown passes in his first three games. His icy glare betrayed no interest in Monday night's 86.5 completion percentage, the highest for his career in games with at least 20 attempts.

If he was pleased with the Broncos' 127 points and 1,460 yards through three games -- the second- and fourth-best marks, respectively, in NFL history -- he gave no indication.

"I still think there is plenty we can improve on," he said. "I really do."

This reaction seemed wholly appropriate to me. It reflected my own and perhaps yours as well. Like Manning, we've been here and done this before. We've dutifully recorded his individual records and accomplishments. It's as if we're numb to his elite play.

Oh, Manning completed 32 of 37 attempts for 374 yards and three touchdowns? Huh. Was it in the Super Bowl?

Yes, the only drama remaining in Manning's Hall of Fame career, and the only thing most of us are really paying attention to, is what will happen when this Broncos team reaches the playoffs. Admit it. We're all in a hurry to get there, Manning included. Can he win another Super Bowl? Or is this another year of regular-season romps and a playoff dud?

A survey of the Broncos' locker room revealed an undercurrent of the same feeling. Receiver Wes Welker shrugged his shoulders when asked about Manning's performance. After all, what is there to say about a prologue? Fellow receiver Eric Decker, who caught eight passes for 133 yards, said that "our goal is to win championships" and added that "you don't think about" individual game accomplishments.

Frankly, these are nothing but preseason games for the Broncos, warm-ups to the real thing that is still more than three months away. There is no sense judging anything this team does until then.

We've done that enough already. As you are surely aware, Manning's teams have made eight one-and-done playoff appearances -- including the Broncos' 2012 divisional-round loss to the Baltimore Ravens. So pardon me -- and Manning, and the rest of the Broncos -- if we can't get too worked up about another brilliant regular-season game.

"Maybe in 10 or 15 years," Decker said, "I'll look back at stuff like this."

To be fair, Manning is playing as well as he ever has. What we saw Monday night was an elevation of even his elite standards. He carved up every defensive look the Raiders gave him, completing 15 consecutive passes at one point in the first half. All five of his incompletions were either knocked down by Raiders defenders or dropped by his receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Through three games, Manning has had just 33 passes fall incomplete and hasn't thrown an interception in 122 passes. I'm not trying to diminish any of that.

Manning, of course, briskly shook his head when asked to compare this start to others in his career. (Or maybe he was still cold.)

"I don't have a great comparison to other years," he said.

Of course he does. He just isn't interested in discussing it, not yet anyway, not when there is so much time between now and what really matters. The Broncos might be the best team in the NFL at the moment, one that will get better when suspended linebacker Von Miller and injured cornerback Champ Bailey return, but we all know that doesn't mean a thing.

If the NFL crowned a champion of the regular season, Manning would have more rings than fingers. It doesn't, of course, and he knows it as well as anyone. So let's hurry this thing along. Is it January yet?