In the aftermath of the Broncos’ devastating loss to the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, media and fans have been playing the blame game, trying to name a scapegoat (John Fox for doing his best Dan Reeves impression by playing not to lose, Matt Prater missing a field goal attempt that led to a Ravens touchdown, Rahim Moore badly misplaying the deep completion to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime) though not many fingers have been pointed in Peyton Manning’s direction.
Manning, as he’s wont to do, lost his shine when it mattered most, unable to guide the Broncos to victory despite ample opportunity.
His last pass of an otherwise outstanding 14th NFL season was a poorly thrown interception that set up the Ravens’ game-winning field goal in the second overtime. Manning turned in his worst performance since a September loss to the Falcons. Two interceptions and a fumble in a playoff game are inexcusable.
Excuses made for Manning and the Broncos however, have been rampant: The bitter-cold weather limited Manning’s effectiveness, the Broncos were “playing the percentages,” the Ravens were finally healthy on both sides of the ball, etc.
Excuses are for losers.
Quarterbacks often receive too much credit for wins and more blame for losses than deserved, but when a player earns $18 million for one season of work and is on a short list for highest-paid athletes in the world, there’s a good deal of accountability due.
Do the Broncos win 13 games this season and earn the top AFC playoff seed without Manning? Emphatically, no.
Does Tim Tebow have more playoff wins in a Broncos uniform than Manning? Inexplicably, yes.
Manning, despite owning one Super Bowl ring, has historically proven he’s postseason fool’s gold. Throughout the course of his career, premature playoff exits have been the norm for No. 18. He’s gone 1-4 in the opening round of the playoffs after earning the “advantage” of a first-round bye on five occasions. In postseason games in which his team was favored to win, Manning is 7-8. He’s been to the playoff tournament 12 times in all, losing the opening game eight times.
It’s not a stretch to compare Manning to former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. Both played larger than life during the regular season of their respective careers, and each had the tendency to shrink in the playoffs. Marino, of course sans Super Bowl ring, posted an 8-10 career playoff record. With the Broncos’ loss to the Ravens, Manning is now 9-11 overall in post-season play. For the record, Joe Flacco is 7-4.
John Elway — 14-8 in the playoffs — said it best, “You make your money during the regular season. You make your legacy during the postseason.” No doubt Elway cemented his legacy in many legendary playoff performances over a brilliant career, retiring as MVP of Super Bowl 33.
It’s hard to imagine him taking a knee, settling for overtime in a playoff game if he had the same 31 seconds and two timeouts at his disposal that Manning had in the loss to the Ravens. That’s the kind of position Elway thrived in, when the chips were stacked highest against him.
Quarterback comparisons are incomplete without talking playoff acumen and Super Bowl wins. Were Peyton Manning to retire today, he’d be a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. But, like Marino, he would be remembered as much for his playoff failures as his regular season statistics. It’s rare to hear Marino mentioned with Joe Montana, Elway or Tom Brady in proverbial “best of all time” lists.
Broncos fanatics (myself included) fell head-over-heels in love with Manning, endearingly dubbing him “PFM,” short for Peyton Freakin’ Manning, during a regular season for the ages. It was his second-best season statistically. It was the Broncos best season since 2005. During the 11-game winning streak, Manning looked right at home in that orange jersey and navy blue helmet, like he’d played here for years.
Manning purchased 21 Colorado Papa John’s franchises in November, and may make his retirement home here.
Rest assured, however, that no matter what happens during the rest of his time in Denver, he’s a mercenary here, and will retire as an Indianapolis Colt and enter the Hall of Fame as a Colt.
Broncos Country would probably be OK with that, so long as he leaves a few more Lombardi Trophies behind him in the case at Dove Valley.
That the Elway-led Broncos went on to win consecutive Super Bowls after a playoff loss to the Jaguars in 1997 — eerily similar to the most recent loss to the Ravens — means exactly nothing.
The 2009 Vikings enjoyed one of Brett Favre’s best seasons, only to see it end just short of the Super Bowl when Favre threw an interception that looked nearly identical to Manning’s overtime pick to Raven, Corey Graham, Saturday to then-Saint, Tracy Porter. The 2010 Vikings went 6-10 overall and 5-8 in games started by Favre. Not quite the encore to the 12-4 ’09 season that Vikings fans expected.
Elway has been lauded for luring Manning to Denver, and will probably be awarded NFL Executive of the Year, deservedly so (confounding 2012 draft notwithstanding). Still, the truth remains: No quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams. Seven of the last 10 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were drafted by the team they won with, rather than acquired via free agency as Manning was in Denver.
Broncos fans expect Super Bowls. That’s the precedent Elway set. Manning and the Broncos couldn’t have asked for a better scenario than they had this season being the No. 1 seed with no major injuries and the chance to host Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Manning’s inability to take advantage has left the city of Denver with a big pair of championship blue balls that only another Lombardi Trophy will satisfy.
Still a top-tier quarterback, Manning will be retained by the Broncos next season. Expectations have only grown, and more than likely he’ll have the chance to atone for his playoff failures. The clock however, is ticking loudly and Manning’s window of opportunity to prove he’s worth his weight in gold, or in this case the bronze of a Hall-of-Fame bust, creeps closer to being closed each day.
It won’t be long until the Broncos begin mining for plan B.