Patriots

Patriots

The Steelers couldn’t do us just this one favor, I guess.

Apparently, it was too much to ask for them to win in Denver on Sunday and deliver us from a week of lazy-ass, paint-by-numbers rehashings of Brady vs. Manning I through XVI.

And now here we are.

Bracing for a week in which Pey-Pey’s crotch-nuzzlers pretend the quarterback matchup between the two for 16 seasons has been as lopsided as Fly vs. Newspaper.

Resigned to the fact that this “Bird vs. Magic” rivalry is now closer to “Bird vs. Kirk Hinrich.”

Accepting of the reality that we simply ain’t gonna see breathless, Deflategate-level coverage of either the Manning family’s pharmaceutical shipments, the quarterback’s relationship to alleged HGH peddler Dale Guyer or Manning’s failure to-date to follow through on his threatened Al-Jazeera lawsuits.

Whatever. Bring on Señor Noodlearm. Maybe it’s fitting for the Patriots to head back to Denver and finish the business they left untended in late November.

And they should be able to do that.

The performance the Broncos slapped out there Sunday was stunning. Against a Steelers offense missing Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams and led by a damaged Ben Roethlisberger, the No. 1 defense in the NFL allowed 339 yards passing and almost 400 yards of offense. Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips got carved up by Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

As for the offense? One has to concede that Manning was let down by his ultra-tender receivers in the first half. (Am I the only one that believes Emmanuel Sanders is the lone Bronco pass-catcher with the belly to compete in big games?) But this is what John Elway and Gary Kubiak tethered themselves to with Manning.

 

I swear there was a juncture during which the Nantz-Simms duo -- which spent Sunday like a pair of helicopter parents watching their little treasure’s first piano recital -- said Manning told them he hasn’t felt this good since last training camp.

He shouldn’t say that. Because not only could Elway, Kubiak, Simms and Nantz all throw harder than Peyton at this point, but Elway -- for one -- could probably shoot a football from his posterior with greater force. It’s bad. And Manning knows it.

The Patriots lost to Denver without Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Jamie Collins. They lost Dont'a Hightower at halftime and Gronk in the fourth quarter. They were up 21-7 before Chris Harper puked on himself, fumbled a punt and Young Brock Osweiler made a bunch of throws that Manning used to be able to make and led Denver to a win that the Patriots handed them.

Does it suck out there? Yes it sucks out there. The altitude is no joke and the stadium gets loud and the Patriots have plenty of playoff ghosts to exorcise -- 1986, 2005, 2013.

Is it now worth cluck-clucking about how the Patriots ran their operation down the stretch, losing 4 of 6 including Weirdness In Miami? Sure. When else could you do it? But the product you saw on the field Saturday made you say, “That’s more like it . . . ” That’s what the Patriots were trying to attain when they started managing all their damaged players.

They’re on the road in the AFC Championship. But if they went balls to the wall to try and make sure they didn’t have to be, they may not have had enough bodies to get out of the divisional round.

So that is what that is.

And now that I’m here at the end of this column, I’m gonna circle back to the stuff up at the top. I don’t hate Peyton Manning. I hate the Manning hagiography and the way it’s peddled. I guess I’m a Manning Truther.

And it is somehow fitting that, while marching toward his record-increasing seventh-Super Bowl start, Tom Brady will step over the decaying carcass of Manning to get there.