ENGLEWOOD, COLORADO // Knowing as well as anyone that time is no longer his friend, Peyton Manning went looking for a team last summer.
He took a chance on the Denver Broncos, and when he signed his contract, the players who were already at Denver's Mile High Stadium got the message: their new quarterback thought the pieces were in place to win the Super Bowl, and win one quickly.
"You had a guy like Peyton. He had the opportunity to go [to] several places," said Champ Bailey, the cornerback. "You know he wants to win and he goes to the place that can help him win.
"It raises your expectations."
On a nine-game winning streak and positioned for a first-round bye in the play-offs, it is safe to say the Broncos (11-3) are living up to what Manning hoped they would be.
They are not a team heading for the play-offs based on smoke and mirrors, the way many critics said last year's team was with Tim Tebow at the helm. That team finished the season ranked 23rd on offence and 20th on defence.
This year's team is dominating statistically.
X-Manning's offence scored 30 points in all but three games this season and rank fifth in the NFL with 387 yards a game, while the quarterback (4,016 yards, 31 touchdowns) is in reach of finishing with the second-most yards and passing touchdowns in his 15 seasons.
X-The special teams picked up a special returner in Trindon Holliday, who has scored two touchdowns on returns.
X-The defence, led by the linebacker Von Miller and coached by Jack Del Rio, rank fourth in fewest yards allowed, second in sacks and have allowed the fewest points in the AFC (274).
"They're very fundamental," Pat Shurmur, the Cleveland Browns coach, said of the Broncos defence his team will face on Sunday.
"They do a good job against the run. They play well. And it kind of correlates on offence. They've scored 30 points [in 11 games] this year, so you can be just a little bit more reckless when you know on the other side of the ball, you're going to score points."
Manning, of course, was looking for a contender, not a project. His quote on the day he signed said everything about both his mission and time frame: "This is a 'now' situation. We're going to do whatever we can to win right now."
Much has been made of the instant bond he formed with John Elway, the former Broncos quarterback turned-executive, and the working relationship he knew he would be able to form with John Fox, the coach, and the offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
As meticulous as he is, though, Manning said he did not drill down deeply into the Broncos roster when he made his final decision.
"You can't know everything about a team when you're making a decision like that. I'd be lying if I said that I went through every single player on the roster," Manning said. "I had some questions. I met with John [Fox] and met with Mike [McCoy] and met with [Jack]Del Rio, met with all of them during my visit here and had some questions for them and got those answers and felt comfortable about those types of things."
If Manning was concerned with any single position, it would have been receiver. He essentially brought his old buddy and teammate Brandon Stokley with him.
Meanwhile, the top two receivers already on the roster knew they would have to step up their game.
"We had a lot of good talent last year," receiver Eric Decker said.
"The defence was playing well. Offensively, we were doing what we could to move the ball and score points. And to have him add a big piece to our offence has really helped the team in general.
"And just who he is as a person, who he is as a professional, the guy demands the best out of himself and that carries over to his teammates."
Decker needs 77 yards to reach 1,000 in receiving for the season, which would make him and Demaryius Thomas the first Broncos duo to reach 1,000 yards each since 2004.
"I never took it as pressure," Thomas said of Manning's arrival. "At least not too much pressure … If he comes here and you're a bust, he's saying, 'Man, I could've gone somewhere else'.
"You don't want him saying that."
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