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Peyton Manning is 9-1 with 32 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 120.3 passer rating in Denver since joining the Broncos last year. (USA Today Images)
Brandon Boykin was eight years old when Peyton Manning made his NFL debut. Earl Wolff was nine, and even Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, four-year veterans, were just 10.
They’ve all grown up being wowed by first-ballot Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady, and on Sunday afternoon, they’ll try to defend Manning in a stadium where he’s never had a bad game.
Imagine being 22, 23, 24 years old and going head-to-head with a legend?
DeMeco Ryans, one of the few older veterans on the Eagles’ defense, said his advice to his young teammates this week was to forget what name is on the back of that jersey. Forget how many Pro Bowls that guy across the line of scrimmage has been to. Clear your mind.
Just play football.
“My message to the guys, our mindset is go win the game, it doesn’t matter who’s throwing the ball, it doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback,” Ryans said.
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t get in awe of Peyton Manning. Yeah, he’s a great quarterback. Get over it. Everybody knows that he’s a Hall of Fame guy, get over it. Now, what do you have to do for us to win this game? That’s the mentality we all have to take. That’s the approach we have to have.”
The 3-0 Broncos face the 1-2 Eagles at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
Manning is 9-1 with 32 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 120.3 passer rating in Denver since joining the Broncos last year.
In his only home loss, he threw for 330 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Texans a year ago this week.
“You can never go in enamored or in awe of a guy on the other side, because you’re already beat,” Ryans said. “I don’t see any of our guys blinking an eye or being in awe of Peyton. We’re going there to get a win.
“Every team is beatable. I wouldn’t be out here working if I didn’t [believe that]. They’re a beatable team. But we have to be on top of our game.”
Manning is one of three sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterbacks who’s active, along with Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Eli Manning has a good chance, and Ben Roethlisberger is possible, although he probably hasn’t done enough yet.
The Eagles spent a few days practicing against Brady during joint practices in August, and for a young secondary -- seven of 10 are 25 or younger -- maybe that will help remove the awe factor when it’s Manning lining up across from them on Sunday.
Rookie safery Earl Wolff could be making his first NFL start Sunday, but he said he’s not worried about getting wrapped up in facing Manning.
“Honestly, when I go out there, I don’t look at, ‘Oh, that’s Peyton Manning, I’m playing Peyton Manning,’" Wolff said.
“I just look at [opponents] as, 'I’m playing football. He’s a quarterback, he’s a receiver,' I don’t look at any names. I don’t get caught up in that.
“When you’re watching film, yeah, you’re like, ‘You see that ball Peyton just threw?’ But in the game … he’s a quarterback, and you don’t even think about the rest of it.”
Boykin just turned 23, but he’s already faced Roethlisberger, Eli Manning twice, Brees once and Brady during training camp.
That’s eight Super Bowl trophies he’s gone up against before the middle of his second NFL season. So even though he’s one of the youngest players on the Eagles’ roster, he said he’ll hardly be in awe Sunday afternoon when facing Peyton Manning.
“You're a professional player too,” he said. “I understand that. As a college player, you think, ‘When I get into the league, I’ll be playing against so-and-so,’ but when you get here, you realize you put in the same amount of time as they do, you watch the same film, and that type of stuff.
“You’ve got to go out there and play and react and do what you’re supposed to do. He’s a good quarterback, but he’s not perfect, and he makes mistakes too.”
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were 22-year-old rookies in 2010 when the Eagles last beat Manning.
Allen said Manning is doing so much pre-snap that you don’t have time to be distracted or think about who you’re facing and just how brilliant a player he’s been since entering the league in 1998.
“You can’t,” he said. “Because he’s going to be out there checking stuff and making dummy calls and looking right at guys and pointing, and it kind of messes with you, because you’re like, ‘Oh, does he know what I’m doing now? OK, I should move here.’
“But he’s dictating and trying to get you off-balance. You just have to know what you’re doing, do what you want to do and execute. You don’t have time to think about anything else.”