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Peyton Manning looks all too human in loss to Bengals

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Peyton Manning has been so good for so long that he only seems interesting when he looks human. And he has looked very human for the last month.

Monday night's four interception letdown in a 37-28 loss on Monday Night Football will be the inspiration for a lot of bloviating over the next few weeks. His arm strength and football mortality will provide hot takes for days. And it's all fair fodder for a Broncos offense that is not quite right.

Here's what we know: Denver's passing game has not been the same since losing in New England in Week 9. Since joining the Broncos in 2012, Manning has had a quarterback rating under 90 only nine times in 47 tries. Five of those games have come in the last eight weeks.

It's too simple to say that Manning has "lost it" or simply can't push the ball down the field. His arm is obviously weaker, but he had a few pretty deep throws on Monday, including a 46-yard bomb to Demaryius Thomas. The week before against San Diego, Manning completed five passes that traveled at least 25 yards in the air.

The Broncos passing game has been effective in spurts lately, but it hasn't been the dominant force we're used to seeing. Monday night was a perfect example. For most of the first half, Manning was confused by the Bengals defense. He was not on the same page as his receivers and his passes fluttered too much. He finished the half with 88 yards, an interception, and zero points by the offense. That's unheard of for Manning in Denver.

Manning, who specializes in making dire in-game tweets look stupid, proceeded to pilot three consecutive touchdown drives after halftime to take the lead. Denver's playoff bye felt imminent. The "Andy Dalton can't win in primetime" stories were being prepped. And then Manning looked all too human again, throwing three more picks in the final frame.

There will be discussion about whether Manning's crushing interception with under just over two minutes left was his fault, or whether Demaryius Thomas should have flattened out the route. Would we be having this discussion if Dalton or Jay Cutler made the throw?

Manning made a confused pass while trailing away off his back foot. It was a terrible decision with no juice on it. He has been under pressure more often lately due to a shaky offensive line, and this was a panicked decision. There can be no arguing that.

"It was a bad throw," Manning said after the game. "I definitely picked the wrong guy to throw it to."

Perhaps the Broncos tell us how they view Manning with their recent gameplans. He threw for less than 250 yards in the previous games because the team was concentrating on the run game. They slowed down their tempo and ran fewer plays. They took some of the control out of Manning's hands.

This remains a wildly talented Broncos team that could still win the Super Bowl in part because of their excellent defense. But the Broncos are still trying to figure out what kind of offense they want, and what version of Manning they have. They are running out of time.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Week 16 game and breaks down the playoff picture. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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