Peyton Manning’s Playoff Deception
Published: Friday, February 7, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 00:02
Even if you were rooting for the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday, you had to let out a sympathetic sigh as Peyton Manning trudged through yet another disappointing playoff loss. Despite having a career year, Manning still ended his season by adding to the perception that he is anti-clutch. The Seattle defense and a porous Denver offensive line were the main culprits in the latest struggle, but in an otherwise illustrious career, Peyton Manning has a losing postseason record and “only” one Super Bowl. These shortcomings are exacerbated by comparisons to the success of his greatest contemporary, New England’s Tom Brady. Brady’s strong playoff record, three championships and clutch reputation have put just as much doubt in the magnitude of Manning’s greatness as in his own defeats.
But in spite of perception, the numbers tell the real story — not the Super Bowl wins, and the playoff record; those are team statistics no matter how much sensationalist pundits want them to be quarterback statistics. Terry Bradshaw has four championships while Dan Marino has zero, yet no one in their right mind thinks Marino couldn’t have won with those Steeler defenders (this is not meant to disrespect Bradshaw, but rather to give credit to Marino). An even better contemporary example is present within the Manning clan. Peyton’s brother Eli, who is unquestionably the inferior quarterback, has more rings thanks to the strength of the Giants organization and some dominant defensive lines (anybody who wants to make the Super Bowl rings argument can go back and look at all 27 of Eli’s interceptions this year, and then the 25 he had in 2010 that prove this disastrous season was not just a fluke). Perhaps the greatest indictment in judging Manning by his losses comes from comparisons to Brady.
In defiance of popular belief, Peyton Manning actually has a higher quarterback rating in the playoffs than Tom Brady. The aggregate numbers show Manning to be slightly more accurate and far more efficient in terms of yardage, despite throwing more interceptions. Before pointing to the turnovers as the crucial difference between Brady’s success and Manning’s failure, keep in mind that if you took their playoff averages over a 16-game season, Manning would have 16 interceptions to Brady’s 13.6, while throwing for 640 more yards on almost a yard more per attempt. In light of this news, some might think Manning’s numbers in the postseason are inflated by his one successful Super Bowl run, but his performances during that run were collectively his worst in any postseason. All of this provides more evidence that wins and losses are not wholly dependent on the quarterback’s performances.
The unfairness of Manning’s postseason reputation is not just present on paper. His postseason numbers are indeed less impressive, but so are Brady’s, pointing to the level of competition as the reason behind the drop. He has had a handful of really poor performances, but many of the disappointing defeats Manning’s teams have suffered over the years have truly not been his fault. Twice Manning has lost in the Divisional Round to the eventual Super Bowl champions, and both times the rare mistakes by defense and special teams proved costly. A missed 40-yard field goal doomed the Colts against the Steelers when Manning had a strong game, and Manning’s costly overtime interception last season arguably would not have happened if the Ravens had not extended the game on an inexcusable blown coverage in the closing seconds.
Peyton Manning’s last game as a Colt was similarly frustrating. A great performance and clutch last-minute touchdown drive by Manning was ruined when poor special teams coverage and horrendous clock management by Head Coach Jim Caldwell handed the Jets the game-winning field goal opportunity. Even Manning’s infamous losses to the Chargers seem less damning when you look at the actual performances. In the 2007 matchup, when Manning threw two interceptions, he threw for over 400 yards and had three touchdowns. But the next week, the undefeated Patriots beat those Chargers in spite of a horrid three-interception, 66.4 rated performance by Brady.
Reciting all of these statistics and analyses may seem like beating the point to a pulp or even extrapolating too much, but there is far more truth in statistics and analyses than simply looking at wins and losses and putting them on one player. The NFL is a complex league; no one player, no matter how important or talented, can win or lose a game singlehandedly. This is not to say Manning has not had talent around him, but his teams have not always been elite. Preparation and coaching are extremely important, and it would be tough to argue that any team has had a better culture or coaching staff than the New England Patriots over the past fifteen years. Like all quarterbacks, Manning and Brady can only impact a game so much. They are great quarterbacks, but great quarterbacks don’t always win Super Bowls, great teams do.
Darius Majd is a junior in the College. The Sporting Life appears Fridays.