"The Atlanta game was such an oddball," Peyton Manning began. "I kind of put an asterisk by it when we studied ourselves in the offseason."
The situation is burned into the minds of many a Broncos fan. There the Broncos stood, in only the second game of the 2012 season, on Monday Night Football in enemy territory. The Broncos were dumbstruck, down 20-0 in the second quarter. Their prized offseason acquisition, quarterback Peyton Manning, had thrown three first quarter interceptions to put them in this hole.
After months of talk about whether Manning would return to full form, many would admit that doubts were starting to creep in.
However, as Manning looks back on it, it wasn't the new team, or the lack of physical ability, or even football experience since the injury that kept him from playing well against the Falcons. It was rustiness from having not played on the road.
"Looking back on it, where we screwed up is that I didn't play on the road in the preseason at all," Manning said. "I played one series against Chicago. It was raining. Half the people left. I didn't play against Arizona at all. I don't know. Home is different than on the road."
To that point in his short Broncos career, Manning had played parts of three preseason games and all of one regular season game. At home, he had played over a quarter of football against the Seattle Seahawks and a half of football against the San Francisco 49ers. In the regular season, he led the Broncos to an opening week win against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. His only road action was a full month earlier -- Preseason Week One against the Chicago Bears. Manning played one series.
In Atlanta, after a year out of football, one rain-soaked series a month earlier just wasn't enough.
"I wasn't ready for it. I am not sure the preseason would have gotten me ready, but I should have played. I remember telling Coach Fox, I apologize that I didn't not feel good (sic). We really could have won that game had I not spotted them 21 (sic) points."
Perhaps that explains part of the Broncos preseason schedule this year. For many recent years now, Denver has closed out the preseason in Arizona on the road. Yet in 2013, Manning will get a few more opportunities to play on the road, as Denver's Week Four preseason game is a home game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Substituting Week Four for a home game -- where Manning certainly won't play -- will give Manning a few more snaps in enemy territory. A few more snaps to find his comfort zone on the road.
"I did not feel comfortable in that game," Manning admitted. "I made some decisions that just were not good."
"At no point at any other time of the season did I have that feeling."