The current iteration of Manning is football's answer to future baseball Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, conducting the Denver Broncos' offense like a maestro to compensate for what has devolved into the weakest arm among NFL starters.
As the late afternoon games were unfolding, the dichotomy between Manning and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was striking. Manning essentially is the Bizarro Newton, as the two quarterbacks reverse each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Whereas Newton's athleticism and rocket arm stand out, he suffers from slipshod footwork, a lack of touch and scattershot accuracy. Manning is throwing wounded ducks all over the field, but his offense is knocking down one NFL record after another because of his preternatural touch, accuracy, anticipation, blitz recognition and pre-snap adjustments.
After tossing four touchdown passes in the 51-48 shootout victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Manning now has more touchdown passes (20) than nine teams managed for the entire 2012 season. Denver's 230 points are the most through five games in NFL history, leaving the Broncos on pace to become the first team to surpass 600 and 700 points in a season.
Saddled with declining physical gifts that would leave most draftniks scoffing, Manning is playing the position better than it ever has been played.
Here's what else we learned:
1. This won't be popular in the LeSean McCoy household, but Knowshon Moreno gives the Broncos' offense exactly what it needs from a starting tailback. He avoids mistakes, is an asset in the passing game and his subpar speed is masked by the wide lanes provided by Manning's record-breaking aerial show.
2. Football Outsiders metrics ranked the Broncos just 19th among defenses entering Week 5. An easy schedule masked their deficiencies over the season's first month. They missed too many tackles, had no answer for Dallas' tight ends and generated no pass rush Sunday. Von Miller and Champ Bailey will be welcomed back with open arms.
3. Beleaguered Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne was picked on early and often, but he got his revenge by coming up with the first interception of Manning this season when Eric Decker lost the ball in the sun. Dallas' coverage problems aren't going away.
4. Tony Romo is playing at a high level this season and just produced the best game of his career despite the absence of his No. 2 receiver, Miles Austin. Even with three losses, the Cowboys remain the favorites in the NFC East largely because their quarterback severely is outplaying his divisional counterparts.
5. Austin is due $5.5 million in 2014. Rookie Terrance Williams might have the highest bonehead-to-touch ratio in the NFL, but he made Austin look expendable by hauling in all four of his targets for 151 yards and one touchdown.
6. Denver's Julius Thomas is tied with New Orleans' Jimmy Graham for the most touchdowns (6) among tight ends. Wes Welker is the only player in the league with a touchdown in every game this season. He's just two scores shy of matching his career high of nine, set in 2011.
7. It seems unfair that the Broncos have the league's most dangerous kick-return specialist. The Indianapolis Colts were the only other team to put in a claim on Trindon Holliday when the Houston Texans waived him last October.