From 2003-09, Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark formed one of the most prolific QB/TE combinations in NFL history. The 44 touchdown passes that Manning threw to Clark were second only to the 45 that Drew Bledsoe tossed to Ben Coates, and from 2007-09 the pair was good for 235 completions, 2,570 yards and 27 scores.
The two might have gone right on racking up such unprecedented numbers if injuries hadn’t intervened. It started with Clark’s season-ending wrist injury just six games (and another 37 catches and three scores) into the 2010 campaign, which followed his groundbreaking 100-catch effort in 2009. And it ended – “it” being the NFL partnership of Manning and Clark – when the quarterback’s neck injury led to him missing the 2011 campaign. The Colts chose to move on, releasing Manning and drafting Andrew Luck, and Clark was one of a handful of accompanying veterans that was let go.
Now Manning is a Bronco and Clark is a Buccaneer, and they’re both doing quite well. While he hasn’t had much time to dwell on it yet, Clark knows that his years in that shared groove with Manning constituted a one-of-a-kind experience.
“It’s something special,” he admitted. “It’s unique and it’s definitely something that, as you continue to play and down the road when you’re done playing, it’s one of those things that will be something you’ll look back on and realize how special the situation was that we had.”
Some thought that the Broncos would try to reunite Manning and Clark in Denver, but they went with another ex-Colt, Jacob Tamme, instead. Still, the two former Colts will get a chance to catch up this Sunday when Clark’s Buccaneers visit Sports Authority Field to take on Manning and company. It’s a big challenge for the playoff-seeking Buccaneers and Manning, who is third in the NFL with a 104.8 passer rating, is one of the main reasons why. It hasn’t take Manning long to get comfortable in Denver, and to begin running the Broncos offense with the same total control he had in Indy. Clark isn’t at all surprised to see his former quarterback making such a swift rebound from his serious neck injuries.
“I would never bet against him on his determination with his rehab,” said Clark. “Just being around and seeing all of the hard work that he was putting in, you knew he was going to surprise a lot of people. He definitely gave great commitment and dedication to getting back, and everything that you have to do to overcome an injury as an athlete. He did that, and did a great job of putting himself in a position to come out and perform the way he wants to.”
Clark also knows that some of his current defensive teammates will be looking to him for clues as to how to defend Manning, but he doesn’t think he’ll be too much help in that regard. In fact, he would counsel his fellow Bucs to focus on their own preparations and treat this matchup like any other.
“I’ve been on a team where we’ve played other ex-teammates,” said Clark. “You find a lot of teams try to play the game of…if you give them a few code words or if you give them a few things here or there then that’s all they’re looking for and they’re forgetting to play football. The main thing I tell them is, just play your game. Play the scheme, play everything else and just play hard.”
Of course, Clark wouldn’t expect any information he had from his time with Manning to be of much use anyway. Manning is legendary for playing a mental game with the opposing defense at the line of scrimmage, trying to be the last one to react to the other team’s adjustments.
“There’s not much you can do, because he’s got ways to kind of fool you,” said Clark. “It’s not worth trying to give them this and that, code words or whatever. Besides, he’s in Denver now and who knows what they’re running and the code words and all of that. If he was in Indy, it would be a little bit different, but I don’t know what they’re doing in Denver.”