It’s much easier to like Peyton Manning now.
And it’s much easier to be appreciative of his talents.
I was bitter towards Manning for the majority of his career because of his team alliance (I still hold some bitterness towards him now, since his departure led to the Colts drafting Andrew Luck – not fair, football gods!) and didn’t think highly of him after he spurned the Titans – among other teams – to sign with the Denver Broncos coming off of neck surgery.
But animosity aside, it’s time to give credit to Peyton Manning when it’s due.
He’s the best quarterback ever to lace up the cleats, regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl tonight.
It’s easy to make his case based on his regular season statistics – it’s practically a lock that Manning will hold every career record if he can continue playing after this season, especially since he’s coming off a year where he broke both the passing yard and touchdown single-season marks.
(Side note: I wouldn’t consider Manning’s 2013 the greatest season ever for a quarterback, especially considering the rule changes that have made it easier to pass the football. Dan Marino’s 1984 campaign will always be the top single-season performance to me.)
Beyond the statistical value, it’s easy to see Peyton Manning’s impact on the game of football today. The no-huddle offense has evolved under his watch and has influenced every team in the league to run a variation of it. It also has forced the NFL to attempt to reduce its effectiveness by placing an umpire 12 feet off the line of scrimmage instead of five to seven feet behind, which in turn meant longer wait times to spot the ball and get back into position.
Instead, I’m going to make his case by looking at his playoff numbers and see how they stick up to his two biggest competitors: Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
Scott Kacsmar wrote a fantastic article that debunked the myth of Peyton Manning being labeled as a playoff “choke artist” last June.
Manning’s biggest rival, media-driven or not, has been Tom Brady. Brady has been looked upon by many as the greatest playoff quarterback of our generation because of three Super Bowl championships and his all-time best playoff record.
But if you throw out the 18-8 vs. 11-11 argument (which is silly and sounds like a case someone would make for Cy Young candidates before the sabermetric era), you will see that Manning has actually been better than Brady in the post-season.
Above is a breakdown of Manning and Brady’s numbers against playoff teams prior to last month’s AFC Championship. Defense-Adjusted Passer Rating (DAPR) – which is calculated just as it appears, by taking into account how good the defense is that the quarterback faces – is in favor of Manning by a comfortable margin (1.06 to 0.62). Brady has put together better numbers against playoff teams in the regular season (1.11 to 0.87), but he also has played 28 less games than Manning in that department.
Post-season completion percentage (64.05% to 62.11%), QB rating (90.1 to 87.5), and yards-per-attempt (7.51 to 6.76) also are in favor of Manning – if familiar counting stats are your thing.
“But Brady gets it done in the clutch – that’s something you can’t say about Peyton!”
Another silly argument.
In the fourth quarter / overtime of a playoff game, Brady and Manning have each thrown two interceptions when down by 0-8 points. If you expand that to a two-possession game, then Brady has actually thrown more picks than Manning (5 to 3).
The rings argument is also laughable, but I’ll entertain it for a moment. Brady was the prototypical game manager in his first Super Bowl win and needed Adam Vinatieri to hit two 40+ yard field goals to earn his first two championships. I’ll give him credit for putting Vinatieri in position to hit those game-winners, but the overwhelming praise for him setting up his kicker is funny when Manning gets criticism for doing the same thing with Mike Vanderjagt.
Manning also gets criticism for beating Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl, but that Chicago Bears team beat another future Hall of Fame signal-caller Drew Brees by 25 points in the NFC Championship. Grossman or not, that team was legit.
Joe Montana is a little tougher to compare to, because the “Joe Cool” aura speaks for itself. One of the biggest benefits that Montana had was a lack of a salary cap for all but the last year of his career, along with an owner that allowed the team to stay intact when a limit would have depleted some of the talent around him.
Montana also had some of the worst playoff performances ever – games that would be routinely brought up against Manning if the roles were reversed. From 1985-1987, the Niners went 0-3 in the post-season, with Montana failing to throw a touchdown (50.5 QB rating, four interceptions, 52.27% completion percentage, 5.72 yards-per-attempt). In addition, his effort in the 1993 AFC Championship Game was pretty putrid as well (9-23, 125 yards, 1 INT).
Manning has just as many playoff games with a QB rating under 70 as Montana (5), with two of them coming in his first three post-season starts. Sure, Montana has compiled a rating of over 100 in twice as many starts as Manning (12 to 6), but their career playoff statistics are pretty similar, as shown below:
Manning – 90.1 QB rating, 64.05% completion percentage, 7.51 yards-per-attempt in 22 games
Montana – 95.6 QB rating, 62.67% completion percentage, 7.86 yards-per-attempt in 23 games
Finally, where Montana was paired with one of the most brilliant offensive minds ever in Bill Walsh for the majority of his career, Manning carried some “Ordinary Jims” – Mora and Caldwell – to the post-season.
Second ring or not tonight, Peyton Manning has proven to be one of the game’s best regular season and playoff performers. Combine that with how he’s changed the sport and it’s easy to get past the previous bitterness and appreciate him for what he is – the greatest quarterback of all-time.