Peyton Manning and Tom Brady shake hands yet again at centerfield.
As Denver's Peyton Manning draws nearer to retirement, the question of his overall legacy comes up often, especially the impact his wins and losses in the playoffs will have on how he is ranked among the sport's greatest signal-callers.
The Denver Broncos are heading to the AFC Championship Game in what should be a familiar matchup for their All-Pro quarterback. He may be on a new team, but he'll be facing an old rival in Tom Brady when the Patriots roll into Denver.
Before the game with the San Diego Chargers, there was a lot of talk about whether or not it was a game that would define Peyton's legacy. Now that the Broncos have won 24-17, there is bound to be even more talk about what the matchup with New England is going to do for the way that people ultimately look back on Manning's career.
However, the game really only impacts his legacy at all if he wins.
The knock on Manning has been that he comes up small in the playoffs. He is widely recognized as the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time. He broke every meaningful passing record this season.
With Sunday night's win, though, he is now just 10-11 in the playoffs, with only one Super Bowl.
Now, there are a few things that should be said to qualify Peyton's postseason production. It is true that he has not had a ton of success, but it is partially unfair to blame it all on him in what is clearly a team sport. For example, as was pointed out by B/R's Christopher Hansen, Manning actually has a slightly better playoff quarterback rating than a guy who often gets a lot of credit for being clutch and coming up big in big moments:
The rings on Brady's hand say he's had more success, and it's hard to argue that. Part of it comes down to what you do at the end of a game, and that's often when Brady is throwing a touchdown and Manning is throwing an interception. But it does show that having the right components around you really can help.
Now you can see the absurdity of looking at stats in a vacuum. Brady is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, undoubtedly one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation and, perhaps, any generation. Tim Tebow is sitting at home on the couch and watching the playoffs.
Still, the support of a team is important. Legarrette Blount ran for four touchdowns, so Brady didn't need to throw any. But he gets no flak for it. If Peyton goes out and throws for 168 yards and no touchdowns, the Broncos will be slaughtered and he'll get all of the blame.
Ever the professional, Manning also pointed out that it was a team game, saying in an interview with the Associated Press that:
"It's the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot. But when you get to the AFC championship, it's about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there."
All that being said, what happens if Manning loses to Brady in Denver on Sunday? People will just keep saying what they're saying now.
That he comes up small.
That he chokes when it matters.
That he's only good in the regular season.
His legacy doesn't change. That's where he is right now. He's already looked at that way because he has stumbled in the playoffs more than most other big-name quarterbacks, and he'd be viewed that way by many if he retired tomorrow and never played another snap.
It doesn't matter if he's 10-11 in the playoffs or 10-12. People will say the same thing, and they'll have a valid point.
If he wins, though, there is the potential for everything to change. It would put him at 11-11, no longer a losing record. It would set him up to go to a third Super Bowl. If he could win that, he'd have a pair of rings and a winning playoff record.
If he retired with those stats, it could alter his legacy forever. He would no longer just be a great regular-season quarterback. So this is a huge game, a legacy game.
But only if he wins.
No pressure, Peyton.