As it pertains to quarterbacks, Emmanuel Sanders prefers his one-time AFC North rival to his one-time AFC North teammate.
In what could easily be interpreted as well-crafted shade, the Denver Broncos‘ veteran wide receiver listed his “favorite” quarterbacks ever, an exclusive two-man group comprised of current starter Joe Flacco and future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning, naturally.
“Flacco’s a baller. He’s a baller, probably one of my favorite quarterbacks of all-time. Him and Peyton, they’re close, neck and neck,” Sanders gushed to reporters Monday. “I’m looking forward to going out on Sundays and competition with him week-in-and-week-out because I know what type of guy he is. I know the type of energy he’s going to bring and I know he’s going to be consistent with his personality because I just know it just hanging out with him. I’m looking forward to just going out and trying to showcase our talents together and hopefully we can be one of those duos and put up a lot of points and win a lot of games.”
Noticeably absent? Ben Roethlisberger, his QB in Pittsburgh from 2010-13, a period in which he caught 161 passes for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Not that it’s surprising, considering Sanders couldn’t wait to leave to begin opening fire on Roethlisberger. In 2014, his first year with Denver, he made headlines by declaring Manning a “far better leader” than Big Ben, who admitted at the time he was “hurt” by the comment.
“I know he told some other guys, ‘You know I love Ben. I didn’t mean it like that.’ I wish he would have reached out to me and just say that, and I would have been fine with it,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Whether he meant it or not, it hurt in a sense that I tried so hard to keep him here last year and was always supporting him. When he was down in practice, I always talked to him.”
Sanders broached the topic again this past January, amid the Antonio Brown drama that’d gripped the Steel City, strongly criticizing Roethlisberger for what he perceived to be disparaging — and very public — remarks toward Pittsburgh’s receiving corps.
“To me, all of that is disrespectful,” he said. “I will take all of that as disrespect. I remember talking to Mike Wallace about this situation. I said, if Ben called me out on his radio show the next day, I would literally walk up to him in the locker room and say, ‘Don’t do that. Keep my name out of your mouth.’ Even the game versus us, the rookie receiver [James Washington], he threw the rookie receiver under the bus. It’s like you’re the leader of this team, be a leader. That’s the reason why my comments, when I first became a member of the Denver Broncos and I said that Peyton Manning was a far better leader than Ben Roethlisberger, that’s the reason why all of that now is coming to fruition. I don’t lie. I don’t hate anybody, I just speak the truth, and that’s the truth.”
Sanders got the better of Ben and Co. last season, as Denver pulled off a 24-17 upset victory against Pittsburgh. The tenth-year veteran led the club with seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, his final score of an injury-shortened 2018 campaign.
The teams don’t play again this season. Unfortunately.
Sanders Again References Peyton
Turning the page, Sanders was asked about his excitement level for Monday’s opener in Oakland. It isn’t just Sanders’ first game since tearing his Achilles’ tendon last December, it’s a rivalry grudge match that harkens feelings of the old days — the good old days.
“It’s difficult because for me, I still—when I think of Oakland I still think of the old days when I was playing with [QB] Peyton [Manning], just going in there just expecting to win,” he said. “I feel the same way. I expect us to go out there and win. I don’t care who the opponent is. We have to show up every game expecting to win. That’s the mindset.”
Denver was initially installed as three-point road underdogs to the Raiders, but oddsmakers recently moved the line to even. Sanders is less enthralled by it being a divisional game than he is it being on primetime.
“For me I never really got the rivalry feel,” he said. “To me it’s just another game, another opponent, another team in our way of trying to obtain the goals. I love playing football. I’m passionate about it so when I see it, I see it as fun. I see it as a challenge to go out and play against another team. I don’t care who it is. Even if they’re in our division it’s another game to go out and try to showcase your talent, showcase this team, showcase this organization to try to get a win.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL