In reading some of the comments of the many quality Broncos fans, I have come across a few comments here and there about Manning and the playoffs. The comments have denoted negativity in his playoff abilities. And I understand why. That is the notoriety that he has carried for awhile now. And in his first year in a Broncos uniform, he makes the game deciding mistake in the overtime of the Raven nightmare.
But as a guy that has watched him pretty closely for a decade, I just want to give some perspective on the matter. I don't want to write a blind defense of his mistakes. But to offer a broader viewpoint. Colts fans knew Manning and understood what he had done in the regular season and the playoffs. Tho understandable, it's a little strange to read comments from Broncos fans who speak negatively of Peyton. They may not be completely mistaken, but they didn't watch him closely for a decade. They may react to what his reputation has been. Peyton is now a Bronco. That was his choice. And I hate to see comments of the good Mile High fans in a negative light when it comes to the man who is committed to being your Quarterback.
A fan has a right to criticize a player. And perhaps at this point you owe him nothing. And if you feel that Manning is a bad playoff quarterback, it doesn't mean that you hate him and are rooting against him. You are a Broncos fan, so you want the Broncos to win regardless of who the QB is. But I think its good to have a broader perspective on how he has gotten that reputation. And good for Bronco country not to add to the negativity.
I have read many comments from media and observers about Manning and his playoff career the last few years out of curiosity. They are wide ranging. Some say that he is fatally flawed and cannot perform in the playoffs. His sub .500 record proves clearly that he is a choker and incapable of leading a team in the postseason.. Others suggest that all of Peyton's playoff losses have been a result of complete failure by his teammates and coaches, and that he is pretty much free from blame... Those are the extremes.. Most opinions are somewhere in the middle. Some saying that tho he has not always been terrible, he is clearly not the same quarterback in the postseason.. Others saying, while he has not been perfect in the postseason, at times he has been great. And he has not benefited from ever having what wins championships, a really good defense.
First I think it is good to look at how he first developed that reputation. It started early on in his career. I thought I would go through his whole career and give an overview of what happened to the Manning lead Colts over the years.
The Colts were a cellar dwelling team that Manning helped elevate to the playoffs in his second year. However they could not get over the hump, losing in three straight playoff games in '99 '00 and '02. The voices were starting to raise that Peyton couldn't win a game in the playoffs. And he didn't play particularly well in those games. He tried to do too much and made mistakes that were uncharacteristic.
2003 Soon the Tony Dungy era would come in and give some structure to the defense. Dwight Freeney was brought in through the draft. One of the worst defenses in the league would make some improvement. In 2003, the Colts broke out of the postseason slump, coincidentally against the franchise Peyton would join in the twilight of his career. The Colts did not punt once in this game against the Broncos. Peyton was 22 for 26 and threw for 377 yards and five touchdowns. Then they went onto the next round to beat the Chiefs in another game in which the punter stayed on the sidelines. But the postseason ended on a snowy night in New England a week later. Peyton played terrible getting picked off four times and throwing the ball into coverage where it should not have been thrown. Colts fans were upset at the physicality of the the New England defense. It was very physical with the WR's, throwing them off of their timed routes.
2004 A similar story line played out the next year. Again Peyton puts up good numbers against Denver: 458 yards 4 TD's and 1 INT. But then another visit to New England, with the haunted snowy weather waiting for them again. It ended with the offense not even getting to the end zone. The offense just could never get it going. Peyton couldn't get it going, WR's dropped passes, and the run defense could not get the Pats off the field in the second half. Another crushing defeat. 238 yards 1 INT
Manning had played a few really good games to this point. But now many questioned if he can win the big playoff games.
2005 The next season the Colts came out of the gates on fire. This was Mannings record breaking 49 touchdown in 15 games season. Yet they lost a few at the end of the season, and rested the starters on the final game. Tony Dungy's son committed suicide right before the playoffs, casting a dark shadow over the team. The Colts came out of the bye week flat. After not playing a meaningful game for three weeks, they got into a hole early. Manning got sacked 5 times by the relentless Blitzing of the Pittsburgh D. After climbing out of the hole, and getting a few breaks to go their way, Vanderjagt missed the field goal at the end of the game for the victory. After finally sealing home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Colts were ousted after one game. For the third year in a row, the eventual champion took them out.
2006 The next postseason didn't look hopeful. The Colts brought arguably their worse run defense of the decade, the team stumbling into the playoffs after a great start. But then something clicked. Tony Dungy got the D playing good, disciplined run defense against teams they knew were going to run the football. Manning did not play great in these games, but the run defense held. Manning had the opportunity to make some big plays, and the Colts advanced past the Chiefs and the Ravens to go to the AFC championship game. They would be going home to face the nemesis that stood in their way yet again. It was New England vs. Indianapolis, this time in the Dome.
The game started just like the others. I watched in disbelief as Peyton threw a pass that Ty Law played perfectly for a pick 6. The Pats opened with a 20-3 lead, and the same storyline was playing out. The pressure was very heavy on the team as they faced another uphill battle. This time at home. But just before the half in the 2 minute offense, Indy marched down to score a touchdown. They would receive the ball after halftime. There was a little optimism heading into halftime. Then they came out of the intermission and scored another touchdown. 20-17. The second half was an epic, back and forth battle that played out into the final minutes.
The often criticized Manning headed the troops out with a few minutes left, down by three points. Peyton guided his offense down the field, and Joseph Addai capped off the game winning touchdown with under a minute to go. It was the game winner and the Colts were going to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl didn't start promising, with inclimate weather and a game opening Devin Hester kickoff return touchdown. But after a Bob Sanders forced fumble and Colt score later in the game, the Colts got the lead and held on, Rex Grossman sealing the victory with his terrible arm. And Peyton Manning had his first trophy.
So to this point, Manning had played a few spectacular games. He had also played some horrific ones. He had gotten over the hump. But his super bowl playoff run numbers were not pretty. 3 TD's 7 INT's.. He had built a reputation that he would still be criticized against for the next five years. Yet, Manning was much more consistent in the years after the super bowl. . But the team was past it's peak. They were at their best from 2003-2006. In '07, WR Marvin Harrison went down and never recovered. The offensive line, which was stout for years, was starting to decline. On the defensive side of the ball, Bob Sanders had been a bright spot. But he would be plagued with injuries for the next few years rarely getting onto the football field. Still, they had a good team going into the 07 playoffs, and the monkey was off of Manning's back.
2007 But then came the pesky San Diego Chargers. This was a team that always gave the Colts fits. In '07 they went into Indy and won a tight game at the hands of Billy Volek. Yea.. Billy Volek. The starter went down, but the defense could not stop Volek as he lead the offense to a fourth quarter comeback victory. Manning threw for 402 yards 3 TD's 2 INT's. I missed this game thankfully, so I can't really recollect how that happened.
2008 The 12-4 Colts entering the '08 playoffs had finished 2nd in the division. They had to travel to 8-8 division winning San Diego in the wild card round. This game I saw. Manning played solid. He threw for 310 yards and a touchdown. The MVP of the game was the punter for the Chargers. He pinned the Colts deep multiple times. The Colts had the worst starting field position for any team on the road in the playoffs in the last 30 years. At the end of the fourth, he pinned them deep again. The offense couldn't get out and the game went into overtime. Darren Sproles, who was unstoppable in this game, scored on the game winning drive on the first possession of the overtime.
2009 The '09 season, was in my opinion, Manning's greatest season. They had perhaps the worst running team in football. Two late round draft pick WR's were in the starting lineup with Harrison, Gonzales, and Stokley now gone. The defense played solid at times, but was far from a dominant defense. It was a team that I observed should have lost a number of games. A team not much different than the one that would go 2-14 two years later. They were behind by three scores in the fourth quarter to the Texans twice, and the Patriots once. They allowed over 200 yards rushing to the Miami Dolphins wildcat offense and barely saw the football in the game(a game similar to the opening game last year between Broncos and Steelers). Yet they found a way to win all of those games. It seemed to be a team of destiny. They went 14-0 and were about to beat the Jets before they pulled the starters.
Manning continued his solid play in the playoffs. After several weeks of rest, the talk was all about the Colts coming out flat. But they opened up the game with a drive resulting in a field goal. The run defense held solid all game. The Colts scored two TD s right before the half. And coasted in the 2nd to win by a score of 20-3. Manning threw for 246 yards, 2 TD's and 1 INT against a very good defense.
The next week the Colts faced the Jets. New York boasted the number one defense and the number one rushing offense. The first half went exactly as the Jets could have hoped. They got a couple of big plays over the top of the defense, and went into halftime with a lead. Not a good thing when you are facing a team with great coverage and solid running. But the offense came out of the 2nd half and shredded the secondary apart. They got the lead and killed the clock with a series of short passes (because they could not run the football at all) to ice the game. Manning threw for 377 yards and 3 TD's. The Colts were going back to the Super Bowl.
In the big game, things continued well as the Colts opened up a 10-3 lead. Peyton took a knee with less than a minute to go in the half, within their own 20 yard line. They were to get the ball coming out of the half.
Then Sean Payton disturbed to flow of destiny. A gutsy, unforeseen onside kick to open the half slipped threw Hank Baskett's hands and the Saints recovered. It was a momentum changer that got the Saints rolling. Both offenses moved the ball well in the 2nd half. Dwight Freeney had ankle issues and was not able to disrupt the pocket like normal. The Saints took the lead late and Manning had the ball down by 7 with less than five minutes to go in the game.
My exaggerated memory tells me the Saints were playing in front of a home crowd that day. The defense was humming. They could smell the trophy and were after it. Late in the 4th, The Colts neared mid-field and were looking like they were moving the football again. I felt like they were moving to score. A second down screen play looked promising, but was broken up and stopped for no gain by the aggressive Saints D. Now 3rd and 10, down 7, with about 4 minutes left. It didn't feel right.
Manning calls a bread and butter play on a short pass to Reggie Wayne. Tracy Porter sniffed the play and gambled. (According to Tony Dungy) Wayne didn't run a good route. Manning threw into coverage that he shouldn't have, not expecting Porter to pounce. A play that falls on Manning's shoulders that would hurt his legacy more than any other play in his career. The play resulted in a pick 6 and the clincher in the game. Manning's numbers were 333 yards 1 TD 1 INT. A nearly flawless regular season and postseason ended very sour.
2010 The Colts suffered significant injuries and Manning played one of his worst as a pro the following regular season. The Colts were at 6-6 and in danger of not making the playoffs. Manning had just finished throwing a horrendous 11 INT's in three games. They pulled together and finished the season 10-6 to win the division and were to host a home game. It would be a repeat of last years AFC championship.
Peyton played solid in this one. It was a low scoring game. The Jets ruled the clock in the second half with their ground and pound style. They drained the clock and took the lead late in the fourth quarter to go up 14-13. Manning lead the offense down for a field goal with under a minute left. 16-14. The Jets took the kickoff to near midfield. One pass by Sanchez put the Jets in field goal range. And immediately they were trying to kill the clock. The field goal was made, and Peyton had played his last game as a Colt. 225 yards 1 TD
2012 And that brings us to the Bronco era. Peyton rides a different horse into the playoffs after missing 2011 with neck surgeries. This time he brings a top 5 defense with him and all of the expectations of a super bowl. No need to go into detail of what happened here. Peyton played well enough to win this one in regulation. But made a bad error in the overtime to seal the strangest of defeats.
What A Look AT His Career Shows
I am not huge into numbers, but they tell part of the story. So here they are:
1999- 2005 - 273 Yds a game 15 TD's 8 INT's W-L: 3-6
2006 - 258 Yds a game 3 TD's 7 INT's W-L: 4-0
2007-2012 - 311Yds a game 14 TD's 6 INT's W-L: 2-5
In looking at his career in the playoffs, I look at it in two sections. He struggled early in his career at times from '99 to '06. But has been consistently solid since. He played well enough to win games, but the Colts as a team didn't always pull through. Peyton made some pretty notable mistakes, not rising to the occasion at times. The great preparer didn't always do so well at the moments he couldn't fully prepare for.
There is certainly some truth in that he struggled at times, and also in the fact that Colt teams were not complete. Offense wins in the regular season, but defense gets a team over the hump to win the championship. It's not shocking that when the D was at it's best, the Colts advanced to two super bowls. Otherwise they had a defense that was ranked in the bottom half of the league and played like it. They very often were contenders but not expected to win it all in most years. And It does seem like a lot of things happened that were out of the ordinary, and worked against Peyton as he lead the Colts over the years. Here is an article with a little bit of bias, but some interesting points along those lines:
But let me say something I've said before and I'll say again. Manning is often quickly labeled as a bad playoff qb due to his playoff record. But a quarterback should not merely be judged by his playoff record. 9-11 should not define Peyton. This is a team sport. Peyton controls a lot, moreso than other quarterbacks. But he cannot control everything. A record for a Tennis player should define him. It is an individual sport. Roger Federer doesn't serve and then a different, below average returner takes his spot when his opponent serves. In football there are a lot more variables than other sports. There are 22 players on a football field at one time. 106 players on two rosters. To blame one individual for a team record is shallow.
Peyton Criticized More Closely
And I do believe that Peyton, due to his earlier playoff struggles is much more scrutinized than other elite quarterbacks. Tom Brady is a great quarterback. I view him as a good QB in the playoffs. I am not going to argue about who is the better all around QB. That's a different topic that has been beaten to death. But if you were to ask people who they would rather have in a playoff game, most would answer Brady. But it's interesting to compare the two in the last seven years.
For example, A week after Manning gets smashed by fans and media for the Ravens loss, Brady and the Pats were scoreless in the second half. Brady threw two picks and got "out dueled" by Joe Flacco. Baltimore beat them 28-13. What did people talk about after? Brady's two picks? A scoreless 3rd and 4th quarter? They talked about Ridley's fumble and Welkers dropped catch. I don't think Brady choked. I don't blame him for the loss. Just like I don't blame Manning for the loss to the Ravens. But my point is: people criticize Manning more severely due to his playoff record. Here is some interesting stat comparisons since Manning's super bowl year in '06:
Brady from '06-'12- in 13 games: 265 Yds a game 27 TD's 17 INT's W-L of 7-6 2 Super Bowl appearances
Manning from '06-'12 In 11 games: 311Yds a game 17 TD's 13 INT's W-L of 6-5 2 Super Bowl appearances
The numbers are pretty similar. And I just see that in general, the mistakes of other Quarterbacks are not as highly criticized as Manning's, due to his reputation.
So again, Peyton is labeled by many that didn't watch his career closely, as a bad playoff QB. Or an under performing playoff QB. However you feel, I don't want Broncos fans to be influenced by other peoples hazy opinions.
I think it is good not to add to the overblown struggles of Manning's career. To appreciate that he is fully capable of playing good, and sometimes fantastic in the playoffs. To not take the magic of the Broncos 2011 season, and try to cast a spell on the current Manning era. To support the guy who is helping develop young offensive talent. Helping provide experience that will help the young Broncos in the future.
This is by far the best team that Manning has ever been a part of. Not only did they make some nice offseason additions. But they added an edge from the loss against the Ravens. Manning was a good fit for Denver. And Denver was a good fit for Manning. It's a good football marriage. Now it's time for Manning and the Broncos to shut up the haters and "put a ring on it".