Right or wrong, the Denver Broncos' 38-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round Saturday will likely be remembered as just another playoff failure in the decorated career of quarterback Peyton Manning.
The loss was Manning's eighth career one-and-done playoff loss—the most in NFL history—and his career record fell to just 9-11 in the most important games of any quarterback's overall history. Only Manning and Brett Favre have 11 playoff losses in NFL history.
Manning, like all other quarterbacks who lose in the playoffs, has and will take on the brunt of the blame for this latest loss.
At its very core, the idea of pinning all the blame for losses and all the glory for wins on a quarterback is fatally flawed. In the ultimate team sport, a quarterback is just one of 53 players on a given roster, and he's just one of 22 on the field at a given time. Wins and losses, no matter the correlation drawn between the position and results, is never about just the quarterback.
Saturday is a perfect example.
Quite possibly the defining play of the game for Manning will be an overtime interception, which he admits was a poor throw and questionable decision. On a 2nd-and-6 play, Manning forced a throw to Brandon Stokley that Ravens cornerback Corey Graham rather easily picked off.
A few plays later, Justin Tucker's 47-yard kick split the uprights, and the Ravens were headed to the AFC Championship Game.
The tired and lazy narrative begun shortly after.
"Manning's a choker."
"Another one-and-done for the overrated Manning."
Scott Kacsmar, an NFL researcher and writer for several sites, including this one, did some digging on Manning's eight one-and-done playoff losses. What he found paints a much different picture of the man so many are quick to call a playoff choker.
In his research, Kacsmar found that Manning has been historically unlucky in the eight losses. Factors outside his control have played as much, if not more, of a role in the early playoff exits as Manning's perceived "choker" performances.
Here is a snippet of what Kacsmar's research dug up:
- 6 INT – Three deflected off his own receiver’s hands, two thrown vs. 2003 Jets when Colts trailed 34-0/41-0 in 4th quarter
- 82.0 passer rating - This would rank 23rd all time in postseason history (min. 150 attempts).
- Six games with rating of 82.0 or better (five over 88.3, which is roughly career rating).
- Seven losses by a combined 26 points; one other loss by 41 points.
- Led in final 5:00 of fourth quarter five times.
- Led in final 0:40 of fourth quarter four times.
- Three overtime losses.
- Two games where Manning’s last possession resulted in a missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt (2000 MIA, 2005 PIT).
The rest of Kascmar's piece is worth the read.
For a more in-depth look at Manning's one-and-done playoff loses, we decided to look at some of the other factors in each of the eight games.
2000: vs. Tennessee, 16-19
Manning: 19/43, 227 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 60.9 passer rating, one rushing TD
Other factors: Eddie George rushed for 162 yards and a 68-yard, game-changing score, while Edgerrin James rushed for just 56 yards on 20 carries (2.8-yard average). Manning was under pressure for most of the day and had to settle for field goals on three separate trips inside the Titans' 30-yard line.
The Colts also lost an 87-yard punt return when Jeff Fisher's challenge was successful. The returner had stepped out of bounds on the Colts' own 33-yard line.
2001: at Miami, 17-23
Manning: 17/32, 194 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 82.0 passer rating
Other factors: Dolphins running back Lamar Smith rushed for 209 yards on 40 carries, the last of which finished in the end zone and ended the Colts' season in overtime. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a 49-yard field goal in overtime after hitting on his first three. The Dolphins won the game on the next possession. Miami earlier scored with 34 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
Indianapolis also failed a fake field goal in the first half, and Jerome Pathon dropped an easy touchdown that forced the Colts to attempt another field goal.
2003: at New York, 0-41
Manning: 14/31, 137 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 31.2 passer rating
Other factors: The Jets scored on a 56-yard touchdown during the first series. After Vanderjagt missed a field goal on the first Colts' possession, Manning wouldn't touch the ball again until the score was 17-0 Jets.
Six drops from Colts' receivers and an onslaught of a pass rush sapped any effectiveness from Manning's offense.
2006: vs. Pittsburgh, 18-21
Manning: 22/38, 290 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 90.9 passer rating
Other factors: Manning was sacked on 4th-and-2 with under two minutes left, but the Colts Nick Harper picked up a Jerome Bettis' fumble and should have scored the game-winning touchdown on the next possession.
A few plays later, Vanderjagt missed the game-tying field goal from 46 yards out. Manning was sacked five times, and the Colts committed nine penalties.
2008: vs. San Diego, 24-28
Manning: 33/48, 402 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 97.7 passer rating
Other factors: A Chargers offense missing both Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson for stretches eventually totalled over 400 yards and 21 second-half points. Marvin Harrison lost a first-half fumble that led to a Chargers touchdown. Indianapolis rushed for just 44 yards on 18 carries (2.4-yard average). Manning's first interception was tipped by Reggie Wayne.
2009: at San Diego, 17-23
Manning: 25/42, 310 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 72.6 passer rating
Other factors: Darren Sproles racked up 328 total yards against the Colts, including almost 200 on special teams. His 22-yard run in overtime won the game. Two penalties on the Chargers' overtime drive set up the winning score. Nate Kaeding kicked a 26-yard field goal to force overtime with 31 seconds left.
2011: vs. New York, 16-17
Manning: 18/26, 225 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 108.7 passer rating
Other factors: Jets kicker Nick Folk made a 32-yard field goal as time expired, giving New York a one-point win. On the winning drive, Antonio Cromartie returned the kickoff 47 yards. Mark Sanchez then hit Braylon Edwards for an 18-yard completion that set up Folk's chip-shot kick.
On the previous drive, Manning led the Colts to a 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds left that looked like the game-winner.
The Colts came into the contest with 18 players on injured reserve.
2013: vs. Baltimore, 35-38
Manning: 28/43, 290 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 88.3 passer rating
Other factors: Broncos safety Rahim Moore inexcusably let Jacoby Jones get behind him for a 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left that tied the game. Coach John Fox, despite 31 seconds left and two timeouts in the queue, decided to kneel down and play for overtime.
Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey allowed two touchdowns and was routinely beaten. The Broncos averaged 3.0 yards a carry over 41 attempts. Denver committed 10 penalties.
What do the synopsis's tell us? Manning isn't to blame in every loss. He played a role, but so many other factors go into a playoff loss from year to year.
Defensive breakdowns, disappearances in the running game, drops at key moments, special teams blunders, late-game collapses, missed kicks, penalties and simply bad luck all played important roles in the losses.
Manning's teams have undoubtedly come up short in some of the biggest games, and eight one-and-done playoff losses might turn out to be an unbreakable record.
But Manning didn't lose these playoff games alone, and pinning all the blame on him—like so many lazy fans and analysts do—is a prime example of why the quarterback position gets both too much credit and too much blame for playoff results.