ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It was early November in Cincinnati. The Denver quarterback dropped back to pass, found a receiver open for a 30-yard gain.
Four plays later, the Broncos scored the winning touchdown and John Elway, in his 16th and final season, had the 39th game-winning drive of the 40 he would engineer in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Fast forward to 2012: Early November. At Cincinnati. Elway is the general manager and the quarterback he brought to Denver, 15-year veteran Peyton Manning, directs a five-play, 80-yard drive to give the Broncos the lead in the fourth quarter en route to a 31-23 win. It was his 48th game-winning drive. Manning now holds the NFL record in a category Elway once defined.
"I think he thrives on it," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I think most competitors do. They want the ball in their hands."
The quarterback's latest escape act, which included four completions, including one of his three scoring passes, was more efficient than dramatic, more just another touchdown drive than, say, The Drive.
Yet for all the gaudy numbers Manning is putting up this season — 2,404 yards, 20 touchdowns, the 108.6 passer rating — it's the three fourth-quarter game-winning drives that show what he's really all about.
"I think all football players, when the fourth quarter comes around, that's when the pressure's on, that's when you want to rely on your fundamentals and techniques," said Manning, a former University of Tennessee star. "I think we can draw on this type of game."
There was no sense of panic Sunday, said tight end Jacob Tamme, who played for three years with Manning in Indianapolis.
"He takes responsibility when he does something he feels wasn't good enough and we all take responsibility when we do something we feel wasn't good enough," Tamme said. "That's how we operate as an offense. It was just kind of a sense of, let's go out there and do our job a little bit better and we'll win."