Peyton Manning: Still the Ultimate Paper Champion
Nearly two years ago to the day, yours truly wrote a Football Nation piece criticizing Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for an early playoff exit in the division round to the Baltimore Ravens.
Here we are ... two years later. And the same has happened again.
Manning's teams have been one and done nine times in 14 playoff appearances. Sunday's loss versus his former team was not Manning's first heartbreaking playoff defeat although it could be his last.
Let me be clear, as stated in the article two years ago, one player cannot win or lose a game on his own. Linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were no where to be found on the field in the Division Round matchup versus Indianapolis. Cornerback Aqib Talib played, perhaps, his worst game of the season as he was unable to stop T.Y. Hilton and committed two holding penalties.
That being said, Manning has routinely not played his best in the biggest games throughout his career.
It is no secret that in the modern day NFL, in the old NFL as well, quarterback play wins in the playoffs. The best quarterback wins in January.
On paper, Manning is better than Joe Flacco. He is better than Russell Wilson and, at this moment, Andrew Luck. However, those three quarterbacks are responsible for Manning's last three postseason defeats.
Sure, the Broncos defense allowed over 37 points in two of those three losses, but the statement above remains true: the team with the better quarterback play wins in the playoffs, and all three of those quarterbacks outplayed future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
In five postseason starts in Denver, Manning has nine touchdowns and five interceptions while averaging 277. 4 passing yards. If one adds in Manning's three fumbles, his touchdown-to-turnover ratio is nearly one-to-one.
Again, did Manning lose those games on his own? No.
If Rahim Moore prevented Jacoby Jones from catching Joe Flacco's Hail Mary inside a minute to play in the playoffs two years ago, the Broncos win that game. If Ware and Miller were able to pressure Luck on Sunday, there is no guarantee the Broncos would have won, but it certainly would have been closer, and fans would have forgotten about Manning's performance if the Broncos ended up winning.
That's what fans did when Manning won the MVP in Super Bowl XLI. The Colts won, so it didn't matter that Manning actually had two turnovers versus one touchdown while throwing for an uneventful 247 yards.
It also didn’t matter that Manning had three touchdowns versus seven interceptions in the four playoff games on his way to his lone Super Bowl title. Why did it not matter? Because he won.
But Manning’s play has been scrutinized in Denver because the Broncos have not won. Moore didn't make that play, and thus the Broncos have not won a championship with Manning. When that is the case, like it or not, the quarterback is going to get the bulk of the blame just like he gets the majority of the credit when his team wins.
No one said playing quarterback was fair.
Manning went through all this "big game" criticism early in his career, and silenced the doubters after winning the Super Bowl. What I don't understand is why those doubters are mostly still silent after seven playoff failures since that Super Bowl.
As NFL fans, do we lose the right to criticize a quarterback after he wins a Super Bowl? We have to resort to poking fun at poor Andy Dalton, Tony Romo or Matt Ryan. Guess what, since 2012, Ryan and Romo have one postseason victory each. Manning has two.
Yes, Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, but shouldn't his 10-8 playoff record (pending this season) since 2005 be part of his legacy as well? What about Ben Roethlisberger, who is 2-3 in the playoffs since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy a second time?
OK, some leeway might be in order because the same team doesn't win every year, and if a quarterback has a playoff loss, that means his team was good enough to make the playoffs, which is something a Peyton Manning led team has done 12 straight times.
In fact, Manning leads all quarterbacks in with 14 trips to the postseason, an incredible feat in its own right. On 13 of those trips, however, Manning ended his season with losses, leaving his overall playoff record just 11-13.
Since his lone Super Bowl title, Manning has been one-and-down five out of seven times. In all those cases, his team was at home with the exception of 2008 when his 12-4 Colts visited the 8-8 Chargers. Manning’s other two playoff trips since 2006 ended in Super Bowl defeats to the Saints and Seahawks.
With a resume like that, there simply is no way to argue Peyton Manning as the best quarterback of all-time. Fans who want to argue that point are out of excuses for Manning’s playoff failures. The best players just go out and find a way to get it done no matter what the circumstances.
Manning, though, rarely gets it done in the January.
And that is why if Sunday's loss to the Colts was indeed Peyton Manning's last game, his legacy will be one of a paper champion rather than the best quarterback who ever lived.