By Herbie Teope
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He’s the one who got away.
Then again, the Chiefs never had him, considering Broncos QB Peyton Manning didn’t afford the Chiefs an opportunity nine months ago.
Manning visited with select teams during a whirlwind free-agent tour — choosing not to hear what the Chiefs had to offer — before settling on the divisional rival Broncos.
And now the Chiefs, who are suffering through a 1-9 season complete with horrendous quarterback play from Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, get to watch Manning for the first time this season on the opposing sideline at Arrowhead Stadium.
The magic of Manning, 36, still exists and he has cast aside any doubt surrounding his health en route to leading the Broncos to a 7-3 record and first place in the AFC West.
“He’s back to himself,” Chiefs FS Kendrick Lewis said. “I have great respect for Peyton Manning. He’s been doing it for a long time.”
Kansas City will have to play a flawless game to have a chance on Sunday.
“We know that we have to fight,” Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said. “We have to do everything in our power to be the best we can be, to be perfect. That’s what I told them — we need to be perfect — because that’s the only way that we have a chance, so that’s what we are going to work on to try to get it done."
The Chiefs currently rank a respectable ninth against the pass, allowing 214.6 yards per game.
And the Chiefs also have Crennel.
Dubbed in 2010 as “Peyton Manning’s kryptonite” by Sports Illustrated, Crennel holds a 6-3 record against Manning. The rivalry dates back to 2001 from Crennel’s time as a defensive coordinator with the Patriots and Manning’s time with the Colts.
Although Crennel has enjoyed success against him, he acknowledged it’s never easy against the four-time MVP.
“Some of it has just been fortunate,” Crennel said. “We’ve been a little lucky. Maybe he hasn’t been on as much when he’s gone against us than some other people. I don’t know if I’m kryptonite at all. This guy is pretty good.”
Crennel’s defenses beat Manning six straight times from 2001 to 2004 before Manning’s current three-game win streak.
Nevertheless, the last three matchups between Crennel and Manning proved to be a statistical nightmare for Manning in close games:
• The Browns, with Crennel as head coach in 2005, held Manning to 228 yards passing, with no touchdowns and an interception. The Browns lost 13-6.
• In 2008, the Browns and Crennel also held Manning to 125 yards passing, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Browns lost 10-6.
• With Crennel as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator in 2010, they held Manning to 244 yards passing, with no touchdowns and an interception. The Chiefs lost 19-9.
It’s no wonder Manning held Crennel in high regard during Wednesday’s conference call with the Chiefs media.
“I have great respect for coach Crennel,” Manning said. “The defensive teams that he’s coached — as a head coach or as a defensive coordinator — I feel like every time I’ve played against him, he’s had excellent players, and it’s no different this year.”
Still, facing Manning presents a challenge. Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium won’t be an exception, as the Broncos are riding a five-game win streak. Additionally, the Broncos currently rank third in the league in total offense (394.2 yards per game) and second in points per game (30.1).
“It’s going to be hard,” Chiefs LB Tamba Hali said. “We want to get him off rhythm and get him off the spot. We know that if he’s going to sit in the middle of the field, he’s going to be able to get his job done. As long as we can get him moving from that spot, that’ll help.”
Moreover, having Crennel around to offer input to the defensive game plan may help in giving the Chiefs an advantage.
“Every year is a new year and every game is a new game,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs said. “We certainly hope that rabbit’s foot is still there, but it’s how you play. You practice well, you go out there and prepare well, but it’s how you play during that 60 minutes that determines who wins and who loses. And we expect to go out there and play well, we really do.”
In the meantime, Kansas City has watched from afar what could’ve been at the quarterback position had Manning allowed the Chiefs a chance to court him. Cassel and Quinn have combined to throw for 2,104 yards, with six touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Manning has thrown for 2,975 yards, with 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
It has been a disaster of a season for the Chiefs, who have lost seven straight games, but a divisional win could ease some pain for a Chiefs team that entered the 2012 campaign with high hopes. And if there’s one aspect to Sunday’s contest that Manning apparently won’t take lightly, it’s a Crennel-coached defense.
“When you get into division games, I don’t look at a team’s record,” Manning said. “I look at the tape and I see this defense playing well. He’s an excellent coach and it’s always a challenge going against him. It will be a challenge this Sunday.”
Herbie Teope is the Chiefs correspondent for Pro Football Weekly.