Peyton Manning’s broadcast debut on Monday Night Football was everything you’d expect:
A mesh between the experience of drinking beer on the couch with your buddies while watching the game, and a Hall of Fame quarterback unlocking insight as the action unfolds in front of you.
The ex-Broncos QB, alongside younger brother Eli, hosted the Ravens-Raiders game on ESPN2 as the first of 10 alternate broadcasts for MNF this season. The “ManningCast” featured heady X’s-and-O’s analysis interspersed with Manning’s typical self-depreciating humor, anecdotes and four notable guests in Charles Barkley, Ray Lewis, Travis Kelce and Russell Wilson.
There were impersonations (Peyton did Raiders coach Jon Gruden diagraming a play and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson audibling, while wearing a helmet multiple sizes too small), replay breakdowns and a production level that at times felt like public access television.
In the Raiders’ dramatic 33-27 overtime win, Eli had repeated mic issues, the show kept cutting to commercial mid-conversation, there was a fire alarm going off on Eli’s set before halftime and Kelce casually swore at one point.
Despite that, as well as the overall rawness of Eli’s on-camera ability, it felt as if the viewer was sitting on the couch with Peyton and Eli. That gave the broadcast an intimacy most lack, even if the brothers sometimes veered off-track with their commentary, lacked an overall knowledge of each roster and the game itself often felt like a sideshow.
Peyton’s various riffs included how to get the home crowd to be quiet for its offense (QB Derek Carr needs to tweet at Raider Nation, he says) and the number changes in the NFL that Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady railed against this year.
“Tom doesn’t like it, but it doesn’t bother me so much,” Manning said. “But what do I know, I’m sitting on the couch and he’s throwing laser beams at 44 years old.”
As a guest, Kelce stole the show during his third-quarter appearance. The Chiefs tight end, appearing in a T-shirt and relaxing on a couch in front of foliage, forgot Kansas City was playing Baltimore in six days in a marquee Week 2 matchup. That had Manning rolling in laughter, as did Kelce’s not-safe-for-network-TV description of how the Chiefs offense engineered a second-half comeback win over the Browns in Week 1.
“The best part is, if it’s right before the play, I’ll look at Pat (Mahomes) and give him the eyes like, ‘Yeah, I’m about to make some (stuff) up right here,’” Kelce said.
The Manning brothers also had a good time ribbing the Raiders’ sputtering offense throughout the game, as well as Las Vegas’ overtime mismanagement as the home team nearly gave away a sure win. But the Raiders rallied from their own miscues to win on Carr’s touchdown pass to Zay Jones.
On that note, a bizarre game ended in bizarre fashion, and Peyton had just the sarcastic comment for the moment following the walk-off TD by a relatively no-name wideout.
“Carr to Jones, one of the great tandems out there,” the 45-year-old quipped right before a final, poorly timed cut from the broadcast.
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