By Alex Norman
On Sunday, February 3rd, Super Bowl XLVII (47 for the Greek numeral impaired) will be played in New Orleans.
And Peyton Manning won’t be taking any snaps under center.
It would have been a story book conclusion to a remarkable comeback. After missing the entire 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries (the term “single level anterior fusion” just sounds painful), Manning was released by Indianapolis Colts, and signed by the Denver Broncos.
Manning had an MVP-type season, with 68.6% of his passes completed (400 total), 4659 yards and 37 touchdowns. He led the Broncos to the AFC Western Division title, and the number one overall seed in the conference. Two wins on his home field and it would be on to his home town and a date in the Superdome.
But it was not to be. Manning and the Broncos lost in double overtime 38-35 to Baltimore, their first loss since October.
The defeat was pinned on Denver safety Rahim Moore, who mistimed a jump, allowing a 70 yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones in the final minute of regulation, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
But late in the first overtime, Manning turned the ball over for the third time, throwing against his body with a pass that was intercepted. A few plays later the Ravens kicked a game winning field goal.
It was a scenario that has been played multiple times in Manning’s career. Terrific regular seasons… followed by postseason heartbreak.
And it is his playoff resume… that keeps him off of the NFL’s mythical Mt. Rushmore for quarterbacks.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s look at the modern era of the National Football League… the Super Bowl era.
Here would be my four…
Terry Bradshaw (4 Super Bowls, 4 victories)
Joe Montana (4 Super Bowls, 4 victories)
John Elway (5 Super Bowls, 2 victories)
Tom Brady (5 Super Bowls, 3 victories)
Manning sits at 2 Super Bowls and 1 victory. Along with his regular season achievements, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and one of the ten best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
And there is still time for Manning to move into the rarified air of Bradshaw and company.
But 9 playoff wins and 11 playoff losses is a tough record to have on your resume. 8 times in Manning’s career, his teams have lost their opening game in the postseason.
The quarterback always gets too much credit and always gets too much blame. Everyone that follows football knows this. And Manning should give thanks to a stellar Colts defense which was a huge part of Indianapolis’ run to the Super Bowl in 2006.
But Manning hasn’t been able to get the most of out of his teammates and coaches a majority of the time. And they haven’t done him many favors either.
Incredibly, Manning’s pro career has shadowed his time at Tennessee whenever the Vols played Florida.
In those games against the Gators (Manning started the 1995-1997 contests) there were times when everyone in Orange and White stood around waiting to Manning to do something remarkable instead of doing something themselves. The Vols went 0-3 in those contests.
Looking at just a few key moments of Manning’s playoff career, he had to force throws against New England in a blizzard in the 2003 playoffs. Four interceptions helped the Pats get to the Super Bowl.
In the 2008 playoffs Manning’s running backs were ineffective in a short yardage sequence that would have iced the game. The Chargers prevailed in overtime.
In the 2010 playoffs the Colts were conservative late, and poor clock management by head coach Jim Caldwell kept Manning from getting one more opportunity as the Jets kicked a game winning goal with no time on the clock.
And recently, why on earth wouldn’t Denver head coach John Fox let Manning try to win the game? There were 31 seconds left in regulation, the Broncos had two timeouts and 35 yards or so to maneuver to get into field goal range.
Manning has his faults, and 21 interceptions in 20 postseason games won’t get the job done, but his teammate share some of the blame. And that has led to Manning’s postseason struggles and have somewhat tarnished his legacy.
Think about it. Would Bradshaw be as revered without the Steel Curtain defense and Hall of Fame skill guys all around him? Would Montana have four rings without Bill Walsh as head coach and maybe the best football player of all time, Jerry Rice catching passes? Elway finally got the monkey off his back when running back Terrell Davis came to town. And Brady has Belichick (and spygate cameras).
Manning has not gotten as much help as those guys did… and Manning hasn’t been able to match regular season success into January… That’s the combination that keeps Manning from the postseason elite. Which is fitting I guess.
Football is a team game after all…