With the NFL season just a couple weeks away, two of the game's biggests stars, Pats' QB Tom Brady and his Indy counterpart Peyton Manning, have been hobbled with injuries. Brady has yet to suit up for a pre-season game while Manning is still recovering from surgery to remove an infected bursa sac and has not yet practiced with the team. They are considered the game's two best QBs with NFL pundits often ranking them 1 and 1A because making a clear cut choice, for some anyways, is not easy.
Brady has been nothing short of a winner since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. He has won 3 Super Bowls, been to another, and has appeared in 5 AFC Title games in a 7 year span; very impressive in the era of free agency. 2007, despite the disappointment, saw Brady rewrite the record books as he tossed 50 touchdowns and amassed over 4,000 passing yards on his to an MVP award.
Meanwhile. prior to the Colts' winning the Super Bowl during the 2006 season many had labeled Peyton Manning as the NFL's Alex Rodriguez because both players would have unbelievable statistics yet neither had been able to bring their repsective teams to the promised land. That all changed on a rainy February night in Miami as the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17.
While Manning finally won his title and shed the Alex Rodriguez label, there is another label he cannot shed.....Peyton Manning is not a big game QB. Now I know that is hard to say about a Super Bowl winning QB who will probably replace Brett Favre's name in the record books, but looking back at his career it is not hard to arrive at that conclusion. Let's start from the beginning.
Manning, prior to winning the Super Bowl, was often excused for not having performed well in the playoffs because of how poor his defense was. I refer this as the 'Marino Myth' where a prolific QB struggles in the playoffs only to have their defense become the scapegoat. The blame placed on the Colts' defense is misplaced and here is why. These are the overall rankings of every Colts' defense since 2002:
Mmmmm. Of the last 6 years Manning has had a top 11 defense in 4 of those years and somehow the defense is to blame? In the 4 years they had a top defense only once did they get to an AFC Title game (2003) and the three other times they were bounced in their first game of the playoffs (twice at home as a 1st or 2nd seed). Now, this is not to say the defense has not faltered in the playoffs. In 6 of Peyton's 14 playoff games the defense has surrendered 24 points or more resulting in a 3-3 record. While there certainly can be blamed placed on the Colts' defense during Manning's time in Indy, he himself is not without blame. Here is a look at his recent playoff record:
In 2002 the Colts lost a Wild Card game in New York against the Jets, 41-0. That year the Colts were 10-6 while the Jets, 9-7, won the right to host based on winning a weak AFC East. For most the first thing that pops out is the 41 posted on the Colts. However, let's not forget about the goose egg that the Manning led Colts posted as well. In that game Manning went 14-31 with 137 yards and 2 picks against a Jets' defense that ranked 24th that year in total defense and 21st against the pass. Yes, the defense failed, but so did the offense.
In 2003 the Colts rolled over the Broncos and Chiefs at home as Manning tossed 8 touchdowns to no picks. However, in the AFC title game in New England Manning struggled throwing 4 picks, completed less than half his passes (48.9 QB rating), while the offense posted just 14 points and did not score until the third quarter as the Pats built a 15-0 lead. With the score 24-14 late in the 4th, Manning would have the ball two more times but would go just 2-9 for 24 yards, failing to bring the Colts any closer.
The 2004 playoffs would be much like the 2003 playoffs where the Colts rolled their way to New England, this time in the Divisional Round. This time the Colts offenes, which saw Manning set the record most TDs in a season with 49, mustered just 3 points and were shut out in the second half as Manning went 27-42, 238 yards and one pick (64.3 QB rating).
2005 saw the Colts begin the season with 13 wins. They would finish 14-2, good enough for the 1st seed, and be matched up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. That game saw the Steelers jump out to a 21-3 lead heading into the 4th quarter before a late charge by the Colts cut the lead to 21-18. However, despite having the ball, again, on two more occasions in the 4th quarter with 2:31 remaining, Manning could do nothing more than get the Colts a 46 yard field goal try (which failed).
2006 was the Super Bowl year that finally allowed Manning to shed the label, but it was the defense that carried Manning during the first two games. Against KC the Colts were victorious 23-8, but despite going 30-38, Manning did not find the end zone until the fourth quarter and was intercepted 3 times while the defense held KC to 126 of total offense and Adam Vinatieri's 3 field goals were all the scoring the Colts could generate in the first half. The next game saw the defense once again carry Manning and the offense in a field kicking contest 15-6 over the Ravens. In that game Manning went 15/30 with 170 yards and 2 more picks. Manning did, however, come up big against the Pats in the AFC Title with a 4th quarter drive for the winning score and played fairly well against the Bear.
2007 saw yet another 12 win season from the Colts as they again won the AFC South and earned a first round bye. Against the Chargers Manning had a huge game going for 402 yards with 3 TDs but had 2 INTs (including one in the 3rd quater with the ball on San Diego's 4 yard line and another also in San Diego territory). However, he failed to put the Colts ahead as he AGAIN was in a playoff game and saw the ball twice late in the game but was unable to score--including a 4 down series that started on the Chargers 9 yard line.
Overall, Manning is 7-7 in the playoffs (7-4 since 2003) with a 21-17 TD/INT ratio, an 84.4 QB rating and 5 300 yard games (including 2 400 yard games). However, remove the two games against two very overmatched Broncos' teams and his numbers look a lot less impressive; 12-16 TD/INT ratio, only 3 300 yard games and a QB rating of around just 73. Even more stunning are his number in the AFC Title Game and Super Bowl(the actual big games); 75-132, 833 yards, 3-6 TD/INT and a 64 QB rating. Take away the 2003 AFC Title Game (which many are critical in terms of judging Peyton Manning's performance that game because of weather and the Pats secondary) his QB rating is still just a modest 80, under his career mark in both the regular and post seasons. Finally, many say that the monkey came off of Manning's back when he "led" the Colts to a Super Bowl, but when you look at his numbers it would seem otherwise; 97-153, 1,034 yards, 3-7 TD/INT and a QB rating of 70.5.
Further, in 2005 against the Steelers and 2007 against the Chargers, despite having the ball late in the game multiple times, Manning failed to score in the fourth quarter. The 2006 Super Bowl victory was propelled by a very strong defense and running game. Manning did shine against the Pats in leading the Colts down the field for the winning score, but outside of that victory he has yet to engineer a 4th quarter, game winning drive in the playoffs. In those situations the Colts' "bad defense" (which has been way over blown) does not come into play, it is simply he and that prolific offense that falters regardless if they have the number 1 or number 32 ranked defense.....Peyton Manning could not get it done in key situations.
Manning is an elite QB, no doubt, but he is still not the Big Game QB come playoff time that some think he is. A Big Game QB is the one who can, despite having a poor statistical night, a poor defense, or other adversity,find a way to win in a big game. Manning, again outside of the Pats 2006 game, has not shown he can do that.