by Kent Sterling
The one rip on the stellar career of Peyton Manning is his postseason flameouts, evidenced by his 9-11 record in playoff games he carried into the 2013 postseason. The best ever can’t have a losing record when it counts most, can he?
Yesterday’s win by the Denver Broncos evened Manning’s record at 11-11, and was made possible by the superlative performance by the quarterback whose career nearly ended with four neck surgeries in 2011. Manning was 32-43 for 400 yards, two TDs, and zero picks as he picked apart a Patriots defense forced to play without cornerback Aqib Talib because of injury.
The Indianapolis Colts decided to move forward without Manning after 2011, and the Broncos, tired of watching Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow lead their team, invested heavily in the quarterback whose best days were likely behind him. The Colts bought into a long future with Andrew Luck, receiving back-to-back 11-5 regular season marks. The Broncos hoped to win now, and Manning led them to back-to-back 13-3 records and a trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Jersey.
Manning will become the third quarterback in NFL history to lead two franchises to Super Bowls, and with a win will be the first to raise a Vince Lombardi Trophy for both. This will be Manning’s third start in a Super Bowl, becoming the 12th to do so. With a win, Manning will also become the 12th to get that done twice.
At the age of 37, Manning enjoyed his best season in 2013, and the best statistical year by a quarterback in the history of the NFL. He set all-time records in passing yards (5,477) and passing TDs (55). He tied his own mark of 450 passes completed, 18 behind Drew Brees record of 468 set in 2011. He led the NFL in QBR (for the fifth time in the last seven seasons in which Manning has played), passing yards per game, net yards per attempt (7.91), completions, and attempts in addition to those categories in which he set records.
In the regular season, Manning has very few peers. In 15 seasons, Manning has posted double digit wins 12 times with an overall record of 167-73 that included a 3-13 rookie campaign. In 10 of those seasons, Manning’s teams have won at least 12 games. Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards 13 times, has been named first team all-pro seven times, and when his approximate value is finally tabulated for 2013 he will likely nudge past Brett Favre for the all-time lead on pro-football-reference.com.
If Manning can play two more seasons close to his current level of productivity, hardly a given, he will own the records for completions (needs 769 to pass Favre), passing yards (needs 6,875 to pass Favre), passing touchdowns (needs 18 to pass Favre). and total offense (6,275 to pass Favre) Manning already holds the record for comebacks with 40 and game winning drives (51).
And despite the well-documented trials Manning has endured in the postseason, the Super Bowl will be his 23rd playoff game started, which will tie him for fifth all-time with Larry Cole and Joe Montana. He will trail Tom Brady, Gene Upshaw, and Brett Favre by one, and Jerry Rice by six.
There has never been any doubt about Manning’s greatness as an aggregator of statistics. His precision and production through 15 regular seasons has been beyond excellent, and his brand building has allowed him to become an all-time leader in endorsements as well.
While Manning’s postseason woes have given critics an opportunity to elevate quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw over him, the truth is that with a few made routine field goals, a recovered onside kick, a routine defensive play, and a Nick Harper move to the outside around Ben Roethlisberger, this could Manning’s chance to win a seventh Super Bowl.
What Manning has in his trophy case, Manning has earned. Bad breaks are responsible for the empty spaces. That’s true for many quarterbacks, but no one has been victimized by bad mojo like Peyton Manning.
With a win in Super Bowl XLVII and two more seasons of reasonable productivity, the legacy of Peyton Manning as the best quarterback of all-time will be secured beyond debate. If his neck forces Manning to retire after the Super Bowl, he is still the best but the margin will allow for spirited discussion.
Arguments make sports fun, but Manning might end one for good in 13 days.