<b>By Matt Dolloff (<a href="http://www.twitter.com/mattdolloff/" target="_blank">@mattdolloff</a>)</b>

BOSTON (CBS) — Sunday could not have gone more gloriously for the Patriots. Well, they could have done without more injuries, but the results were as good as they could get. The Patriots took care of business in dominating the Houston Texans Sunday night, while the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals both lost to slide back behind the Pats in the AFC playoff standings.

The Denver offense had a discouraging afternoon, with the offensive line failing to block consistently, quarterback Brock Osweiler holding the ball for too long to make plays, and the receivers making ugly drops when they did get the ball. So naturally, one bad game and suddenly the Broncos have a quarterback “controversy.” There are apparently still plenty of fans – and even media people – who believe that Peyton Manning, not Osweiler, is the key to the Broncos salvaging the rest of the regular season and ultimately making a deep run in the playoffs.

These people still believe that Manning’s “injury” isn’t just a cover-up for the fact that he got benched and simply can’t throw the ball like he used to anymore.

The astonishingly resilient Perpetual Peyton Manning Excuse Machine (PPMEM) got a jump-start Sunday night, when former Colts head coach Tony Dungy declared Manning the key to the Broncos’ Super Bowl hopes: “I do think [the Broncos] are going to need Peyton Manning to go the distance in the playoffs.” It validated the cries of many fans who took to Twitter to echo the same sentiment in the wake of the Broncos’ upset loss to the Raiders, and added fuel to perhaps the most obnoxiously powerful fire in sports media today.

They’re talking about a QB who has an inconsistent-at-best track record in the postseason, and that was before his arm fell off a cliff. They’re talking about a QB who took the field in September after an entire offseason to get healthy and fresh, only to look just as weak and inaccurate as he did down the stretch in 2014. They’re talking about a QB who completed 59.9 percent of his passes with 9 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and a 67.6 passer rating in his first 9 games.

That is the guy you’re expecting to not only come back from his “injury”, but play better than Osweiler and lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl?

If you’re a Broncos fan or Manning apologist, you’re curious about my cynical attitude toward Manning’s “injury.” I’m not saying he’s faking it; I believe that Manning legitimately has plantar fasciitis. Just don’t tell me it’s bad enough to keep him off the field. I refuse to believe that this is the first time in Manning’s career that he has dealt with plantar fasciitis. He’s undoubtedly played through it before, or at least something similar. I wouldn’t question Manning’s toughness; I just question the real reason he’s not the starting QB for the Broncos anymore.

In short, it’s Manning’s arm that is keeping him sidelined, not his foot. That take shouldn’t qualify as any hotter than “lukewarm,” especially around here. But when Dungy makes his comments on national TV, and tweets like these roll out after the Broncos lose, it’s apparent that people are still in denial over Manning’s sharp (and permanent) decline:

Manning had several months to get fresh for this season, folks. He’s not going to look any better just taking a few more weeks off. And this isn’t to say that I’m celebrating Manning’s demise, or that I want him to look bad. I’d rather the Broncos protect him from further embarrassment. If he gets his job back just because Osweiler had one off game and he’s Peyton F’ing Manning, only to continue throwing as poorly as he has for a calendar year now … Words could not express the level of embarrassment that would cause – or the level of spin-cycling the national sports media would do to launder the stain-covered ending to Manning’s career.

I understand why fans would want Manning back. They’ve seen him put up MVP numbers in the recent past, while Osweiler is far from proving himself as a reliable starter. But the media? The conduit between the fans and the players, spinning Manning’s narrative harder than a merry-go-round tied to a racecar? It’s borderline irresponsible to make anyone think Manning has a shot of getting his job back, let alone playing well.

I’m not telling Tony Dungy to come out and say Manning sucks now. I’m not expecting him to say it’s time to take Old Man Peyton out to pasture. I just want him to be more honest than he was Sunday night. Is it against the law for a national sports media personality to say anything negative about Manning? Could you be jailed for saying something like “Manning doesn’t have the arm strength he used to have and right now Osweiler gives them the best chance to win because he can throw the ball downfield?” Because people like Dungy act like criticizing Manning is akin to blasphemy, all the time.

This has nothing to do with my admitted New England bias, either. The national media didn’t say “RIP Tom Brady” after the Patriots lost to Philadelphia, so perhaps they’re learning. But when the PPMEM continues to chug along with the same gameplan it’s had for over a decade, when it continues to convince fans who trust their opinions that Manning is fine and he’s the one who’s going to lead the Broncos to a championship? It gets insufferable. It grinds you down. And my irrational anger spilled over the edge last night.

I don’t expect any Manning apologists to listen to me; I’m new here and I’m just a dude with an opinion. But I’m not alone, especially not in New England. I have eyes. Manning is not what he once was and this season should be his last, although he’s already indicated that it will not. He shouldn’t get his job back, and if he does he will only make this sad ending to his career even more depressing.

You don’t have to bury Manning like I have, national media. But I’d be less miffed if you stopped insulting our intelligence with the misguided Manning support. Tell it like it is, for once. Admit that the QB who is 11-12 in the postseason, 1-2 in Super Bowls, and has lost his arm strength, doesn’t have a great chance of making a difference for the Broncos. It’s OK to admit that a legendary player isn’t playing like a legend anymore.

I’m not surprised that the PPMEM is firing back up after the Broncos lose on a bad day for Osweiler. Just annoyed at the smoke that it’s constantly blowing up our you-know-whats. Peyton’s not coming back, and if he does he will not win. Enough already.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Read more from Matt here. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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