The Packers may not be playing this weekend, but in addition to the ability to watch the Bears lose to the Texans, there's another game with indirect ties to the Green Bay Packers. Certainly, it is the first step towards a potentially perfect storm for Packer fans in a few years.
With two touchdown passes against the Panthers today, Peyton Manning will break through the Marino Buffer on one of the many career passing records on his way to challenging the man at the top of each of them: Brett Favre. Interestingly enough, the passing touchdowns record is regarded by some as the "holy grail" of pure quarterback records. Certainly, "victories as a quarterback" and "passing yards" are great measures of a man, but it is the passing TD's that make the highlight films, the pure exhibition of what you do single-handedly as a quarterback.
To me, this is significant for a couple of reasons. A lot of us forgot that the great Manning would eventually make Favre's ownership of all those records a short-lived event. Manning's career was essentially on hold for a season and the idea that he would continue playing, much less at a high-level long enough to challenge those career marks, was in question. Many of us assumed Favre's records were now completely safe for the foreseeable future.
But when 36 year-old Manning went to Denver amidst hundreds of questions and doubters, he found that (while he may not have as complete a team around him as he did with the Colts) he hasn't missed a step in the twilight of his career. He's posted a 108.6 quarterback rating through eight games and is on pace for 40 touchdowns this season...both marks standing as the second-highest in his career, other than 2004.
Manning presently stands 89 touchdown passes from career leader (and former Packer) Brett Favre, Let's assume that Manning finishes the season with 40 touchdowns and plays two more seasons with his career average, 30 touchdowns. At the end of the 2014 NFL season, Manning would stand with 499 career TDs, just nine behind Favre's mark. Manning would also be 38 years old, the tipping point for many legendary quarterbacks in the NFL.
Many of the greats left the game at age 38. Steve Young retired at that age. So did Joe Montana. And John Elway. And Dan Marino. There are several quarterbacks who tried to play past the age of 38, and most ended up as a shell of their former selves. Johnny Unitas, Ken Stabler, and Rich Gannon put up forgettable numbers that have become asterisks swept under the rug when talking about their great careers.
In fact, only two quarterbacks in NFL history had a season even resembling the rest of their career after the age of 38, and not coincidentally, both played for the Vikings at the time. Warren Moon had decent seasons at age 39 and 41 for Minnesota, passing for 3000+ yards and 25+ touchdowns in both times. And, of course, Brett Favre, had perhaps one of his best statistical seasons of his career in his first season with the Minnesota Vikings at age 40.
It's possible. Just not likely.
In the end, Manning's lost season will have "hurt him" (if you can call it that) when it comes to chasing after the lifetime achievement marks. Certainly, you don't get the feeling that chasing those marks are why Manning plays the game. However, we never really thought that of Brett Favre either, until the records were within arm's reach.
This isn't the only Marino Buffer that Manning will likely transverse in the next few seasons.
1. Brett Favre 6,300
2. Dan Marino 4,967
3. Peyton Manning 4,885 (needs 82)
1. Brett Favre 10,169
2. Dan Marino 8,358
3. Peyton Manning 7,502 (needs 852)
1. Brett Favre 71,838
2. Dan Marino 61,361
3. Peyton Manning 57,232 (needs 4,129)
Wins as Starting Quarterback
1. Brett Favre 186
2. John Elway 148
3. Dan Marino 147
4. Peyton Manning 146
Using the same mathematical formula applied to career touchdowns (on-pace totals for 2012, career averages for 2013 and 2014), Manning will be standing at age 38 with 5,808 completions on 8,900 attempts for 68,064 yards. In other words, unless he plays until he is in his 40's, Manning will not have a chance to take the attempts or completions records, and he'd likely need two seasons to compile the additional 3,774 yards he'd need to overtake the yardage record. He probably doesn't have a chance at the career wins record.
This is where hubris enters the picture, the self-driven ego that so darkened the final chapters of Brett Favre's career. There's something inside me that says that Manning is far more likely to follow that path of Elway, Montana, and Young than the path of Favre, knowing how the end results turned out for him.
But, for Manning to retire, just a few games away from the one record that is perhaps the most revered among quarterbacks, the touchdown mark, does give credence to the possibility of Manning continuing past age 38, especially if he's continuing to play at a high level. Just that one mark would be a solid final chapter on a prolific career that has, surprisingly, resulting in only one Super Bowl ring (and one less than his less-talented brother now wears).
Which brings me to the other interesting aspect for Packer fans. Assuming my projections hold true and Manning does need that extra season to take the touchdown record, it will be followed by Brett Favre's eligibility for the Hall of Fame in 2016. With that will come a day of reckoning for many fans who have chosen to disown Favre, now faced with whether or not to retake ownership of the franchise's biggest Judas other than Curly Lambeau himself. It will likely be a choice made in the face of a public show of reconciliation by the organization and Favre, and with significant media support.
Some fans will choose to openly root for Manning to surpass Favre, to "stick it to" Favre the way he tried to stick it to Ted Thompson. Some fans will be ambivalent, not looking at the importance of career marks and not really caring. But most of us will be faced with the choice to openly embrace, if not defend, our former great quarterback, choosing to sweep under the rug those forgettable final seasons not spent in Green Bay and the drama that preceded it.
Obviously, this is a long ways away, and today's Packers have plenty of positives and negatives for us to discuss. But, it is a bye week and with Manning passing his first Marino Buffer, the can has been officially opened for the reality of an aging quarterback making a decision to extend his career for the sake of breaking a Packer's record.
C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan and feature writer for CheeseheadTV. He is also the co-host of the weekly live Packer podcast Cheesehead Radio. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.