Peyton Manning continues to develop his reputation as a phenomenal quarterback when it matters least.
Once again, the Indianapolis Colts are ousted from Super Bowl contention sooner than expected, and all Manning has to show for it is an undeserved, third-MVP award.
His record in the playoffs remains less than admirable, but that's par for the course as far as Manning is concerned.
It would seem unfair to vilify Manning on a night were he passed for more than 300 yards. The loss to the San Diego Chargers shouldn't fall squarely on his shoulders; but unfair doesn't always equate to incorrect.
Manning received the NFL's MVP award after receiving sole credit for leading the Colts into the playoffs following a nine-game winning streak—as if the defense had nothing to do with the team's success.
Therefore, the same recognition that allowed him to receive the league's most coveted individual award should make this playoff loss his alone.
When Saints quarterback Drew Brees was disregarded in MVP conversations, the argument revolved around his inability to lead New Orleans into the postseason. His value was doubted because the defense couldn't hold a lead.
Contrast that against Peyton Manning's supposed MVP season—and then think of his current position watching the quest to Super Bowl XXIII. Then, dare yourself to make the argument against Drew Brees one more time.
Everyone was blinded by Manning's ability to dissect mediocre teams during the Colts' climb to 12-4 and the all-too-familiar one and done. It's time to clear your eyes and accept some crucial bits of reality.
There should be no more room for excuses and no more acceptance of Manning's pitfalls in the postseason. Simply put, he is an exceptional regular season player who wins some exciting games while regularly threatenening single-season records.
He's also someone who chokes in the playoffs.
Gaudy statistics are beautiful. They can earn someone an abundance of endorsements, sell a ton of jerseys, and make a player relevant in "greatest of all-time" discussions.
But any true football fan prefers the quarterback who doesn't toy with their emotions—the prolific quarterback whose 42 passes should translate into a postseason victory.
Sadly for the true football fans, that's exactly what Manning does for them. For all of his good and great, there is the terrible that negates his positives.
His long touchdown pass against the Chargers validates the hot and cold nature of his abilities. Manning's ability to recognize a delayed substitution, adjust quickly, and hit receiver Reggie Wayne for a score is the kind of play that will one day be regarded as "Vintage Peyton Manning" on a career highlight reel.
But with opportunities, he still failed to be that valuable player the Colts needed when it mattered most.
Finishing drives with punts in the postseason is not what champions do.
Manning's one Super Bowl victory will always allow his fans to consider him a champion, but it's inaccurate to the reality of who he really is. Winning the Super Bowl was Manning's exception—not the rule.
Doing enough to make it to the big game and defeat the Chicago Bears, led by Rex Grossman, shouldn't be good enough to consider Manning the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Such distinction should be an honor bestowed upon quarterbacks who arrive in the clutch.
Peyton's ability to transcend the game and become a national celebrity is irrelevant to what his legacy should be.
If Manning is to ever hoist the Lombardi trophy once again, it's going to happen when he's on the tail end of his career and the Colts are making their transition with a young, workhorse running back, a la John Elway's last hurrah with the Denver Broncos on Terrell Davis' legs.
Until then, name the record books after Peyton Manning if you must; but when it's all said and done, his legacy will be in need of an effective Heimlich Maneuver.
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