Super Bowl champion compares 'rare' Peyton Manning to struggling Russell Wilson

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T.J. Ward won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning
T.J. Ward won Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning's final match (Image: Denver Post via Getty Images)

Former NFL safety T.J. Ward knows how to win a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos and he expressed dismay for Russell Wilson following a poor debut season for the experienced quarterback.

The 2022 edition of the iconic franchise has fallen short of lofty preseason expectations, with rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett fired before the end of the season while Wilson has struggled since his high-profile trade from the Seattle Seahawks. A Super Bowl champion in Seattle, Wilson has looked like a shell of himself following his arrival in Colorado.

The Broncos had hoped to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West division title but they have stuttered, stagnated and ultimately collapsed to a 4-12 record heading into their final game against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. It is a far cry from the championship-laden days of John Elway or Peyton Manning.

Manning won five MVP awards over his iconic career and led a historic Broncos offensive machine to Super Bowl XLVIII where they fell to Wilson and the Seahawks. Ironically, the iconic quarterback got his hands on the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50 despite his limited play, riding the incredible defence to defeat the Carolina Panthers before Manning announced his retirement.

Ward believes a team was built around ‘the Sheriff’ to work towards their championship dreams whereas Wilson was merely a successful individual thrown into a high-pressure situation and expected to get results. Suffice to say, the results have not been the same as 2015.

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“I see the similarity between our Super Bowl 50 team and the current Broncos, but that’s the first and only similarity,” Ward exclusively told Mirror Sport. “I think they wanted it to be closer to our team, but other guys came in and fit with Peyton. He wasn’t just chucked on a team and expected to win the Super Bowl.

“The biggest misconception is that one player - even the quarterback - can come in and take you to the promised land. You need chemistry and camaraderie within a team for it to work, and I think they just threw Russell Wilson into the fire expecting him to put it out on his own after hailing him as the fireman.

“I guess when you’re getting paid so much, it comes with the territory - but it doesn’t work like that.”

Super Bowl champion compares 'rare' Peyton Manning to struggling Russell WilsonRussell Wilson has been heavily scrutinised amid a disappointing 2022 campaign with the Denver Broncos (Kyusung Gong/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

Ward revealed Manning was the chief reason he signed for the Broncos in free agency after leaving the Cleveland Browns in 2014. The 36-year-old cited the quarterback’s vast experience and incredible presence as factors that helped bring a team of names together, with Ward playing a key role on the historic ‘No Fly Zone’ defence alongside Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.

“He’s part of the reason why I even came to Denver, and I can probably speak for Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders as well because that presence within the locker room, on the field and through the entire league is something you don’t come across often,” Ward said of Manning. “It’s rare.

“To be able to play with a player and person of his stature was a great feeling - but we knew he relied on us as well, which we loved. Nobody can do this game by themselves. That’s why it’s the ultimate team sport; no one can walk in to score touchdowns on their own.”

When asked if he knew whether Manning was going to retire from playing in the NFL after Super Bowl 50, Ward smiled and added: “We didn't know that. I wanted him to come back, but we knew it was a possibility.”

The ‘No Fly Zone’ defence is considered one of the strongest units in NFL history and Ward credited his team’s play with their incredible attitude, hunger and talent. He believes the tight knit group of veterans - united by one goal - elevated one another’s performances.

Super Bowl champion compares 'rare' Peyton Manning to struggling Russell WilsonT.J. Ward was a key member of the 'No Fly Zone' defence that led the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl glory (Denver Post via Getty Images)

As a result, Ward didn’t shy away when placing the 2015 Broncos defence among the greatest defensive units. In fact, he claimed Denver deserve to be behind just one defence: the 2001 Baltimore Ravens.

“I definitely believe we're top two for sure,” Ward declared. “I think the Baltimore Ravens defence with Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa, Rod Woodson - that football team was pretty well rounded. They were stacked, so in terms of everything that incorporates a great defence as well as skill and production, we’re honestly top two.

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“The Bears defence in 1985 was obviously great, but I think the game was a little bit easier scheme-wise - it wasn’t wide open. It was limited. I wouldn’t put them up there with us.

“Tampa Bay had a great defence when they beat the Raiders - Tampa 2 was notorious - but I don’t think they match up with us either. I think our front seven was a little bit better, although they had some cold linebackers, but I definitely think our secondary was better.”

Ward confidently believes he could still play in the NFL, but his dreams and goals have changed. He has entered the sports agency world with Player Above Sports Group, set up to aid players make the right decisions using people like the former safety who have experienced the trials and tribulations of competing in the NFL.

Andrew Gamble

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