Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning "stunk" Sunday (his words). In the 16th battle between him and Tom Brady, Manning's words sting worse than Gillette Stadium's cold, swirly wind. It adds to the narratives: Manning can't play in the cold; Manning chokes in big games, while Brady excels in them.
Manning threw for 438 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in Denver's lopsided 21-43 loss as he and the Broncos struggled to play catch-up after the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points in the second quarter. He finished with a passer rating of 80.9 and QBR of 54.3 - both season lows for the MVP candidate.
Perhaps most damning was his offense's conversion rate on critical downs - he and the Broncos failed to convert a single 3rd down in the game's first half, and they went 0 for 4 on 4th down conversion tries in the entire game.
Meanwhile, Brady threw four touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 97.4 and QBR of 78.2 in the game while converting their one 4th down conversion attempt and going 6 for 16 on 3rd downs. The most jarring difference, though, is the final score, in which Brady's offense netted his team 37 points, while Manning's men could only muster 21.
"I don't usually stink, but I stunk today," Manning said. "I don't make any excuses... I give them credit; they made some plays and did a number of things good on their side of the execution part of it. [They] probably executed better than we did overall. I still think that I need to play better and overcome some things and I didn't do that today."
This is Manning taking ownership. He is the undoubted leader of the Denver Broncos, and taking the onus is something a good leader does.
But it wasn't all Manning's fault, and his definition of "stinking" is most NFL teams' definition of "average." And the Broncos should be better than a team that is unable to survive an average Peyton Manning day.
Broncos and Manning move to 0-7 when Peyton Manning has a passer rating — Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) November 3, 2014
That is completely, totally unacceptable. The Broncos will never win a Super Bowl if all wins and losses completely depend on the arm of Peyton Manning to "save" them.
John Elway, of all people should know.
It wasn't until Elway's final two seasons, in 1997 and 1998, that the Greatest Broncos QB of all Time finally emerged victorious in the NFL's grandest stage. He did it with the help of a should-be-Hall of Fame running back and a stifling defense. The Broncos didn't rely on Elway; in fact, they often won in spite of his perceived struggles. The 1998 Broncos went 4-2 in games where Elway had a passer rating under 90.0, and the 1997 Broncos went 6-3 in such games (including three straight postseason wins).
The Broncos have to learn to survive Manning's average days.
To his credit, Elway is trying to create a team that is capable of overcoming a "bad Manning day." He's given Manning offensive weapons galore, and he's signed huge playmakers on defense.
The issue appears to be with the Broncos' mental attitude.
Once Manning and the Broncos make a single mistake, the mistakes snowball. The vision of Manning throwing the ever-rare interception seems to strike fear in his teammates. "Here we go again," they think.
It's time they started thinking, "It's our turn to step up." The defense, the offensive line, the running backs - everybody.
Take this sting and learn from it, Broncos. The swirly winds of Foxboro will return at some point this season - figuratively, if not literally. Manning, laser rocket arm and all, is human.
These Broncos must endeavor to take the onus away from Manning and save him.