Secret of Peyton Manning's skill

How does the 36-year-old quarterback continue to play at an elite level?

Updated: November 7, 2012, 5:35 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Peyton ManningJeff Gross/Getty ImagesAdvanced stats show that even when Peyton Manning is bad, he's good.

Last weekend, the great Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos to a 31-23 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Manning has taken the Broncos on three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season, and he leads the NFL with a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 85.4; in fact, the gap between Manning and the league's No. 2 quarterback (Tom Brady) is greater than the difference between No. 2 and No. 5 (Aaron Rodgers).

The man is 36, coming off four neck surgeries and an entirely missed season. How the heck is he doing this?

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.