While flipping between the Manning games on television last Sunday - Eli with the New York Giants, Peyton with the Denver Broncos - I flashed back to the start of the season.
New York were riding the momentum from their Super Bowl glory. Denver were wondering if their new-old quarterback, beaten down by four neck surgeries, could stay upright, much less regain his magician's touch.
It seemed unfathomable then that, with one week remaining, the Manning on a 10-game winning streak and within reach of a No 1 play-off seed would be Peyton. And that the Manning with a flicker of hope just to qualify would be Eli.
An old sports maxim holds that the only feat more difficult than gaining a championship is successfully defending it, and that appears as if it will be the case again this year.
At midseason, the Giants were 6-2, seemingly poised for a repeat. But cracks in their foundation were apparent.
Their main asset, the pass rush, had turned pedestrian. The rushing game was stop and start. Eli, though effective, was shy of the lofty expectations that have come to characterise a Manning. Eight seasons have passed since a team (New England Patriots) booked two consecutive Super Bowl gigs.
Parity is the prevailing cause.
Next is a perfectly logical pullback from the maximum effort level attained by players in the previous year. Fill yourself up at the ultimate feast, and you are never quite as hungry again.
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