When New York Jets' placekicker Nick Folk split the uprights from 32 yards as time expired in Indianapolis last night, it meant at least three things:
The visiting Jets had defeated the Indianapolis Colts 17-16 in the wild card round tussle.
The Jets will visit the Patriots in the divisional round; the Colts' season is over.
Living legend Colts quarterback Peyton Manning now carries an unsightly 9-10 career postseason record into the offseason.
You have probably already seen the game, and read and watched the recaps of last evening's upset victory by the Jets. Alas, previews (from every conceivable angle) of the Jets and Patriots showdown are forthcoming.
This column is devoted to consideration of Peyton Manning's playoff career, and what this means for his legacy.
Should Manning be praised for leading the Colts to the playoffs 11 times out of 13 seasons? Yes.
Should Manning be looked at harshly for only leading the Colts to nine total playoff wins in those 11 trips? Well, yes.
Let's take a step back. Peyton Manning has been many wonderful things during his 13-year career. I would not take issue with any of these descriptions:
Winner: Manning has already amassed a 141-67 regular season record, good for a most impressive .678 percentage. Currently in fourth place in total wins for a career, with eight more wins he will trail only Brett Favre, who may actually retire at 182.
Prolific: Manning already ranks no lower than third in many career marks, such as touchdown passes and total passing yards. Barring injury, he is a lock for second place in both of these categories and has a good chance of surpassing Favre in these milestones as well.
Durable: Since entering the league in 1998, Manning has started every game for his team.
Honored: With four league MVPs, 11 Pro Bowls and five First-Team All-Pros, Peyton has won as many plaudits as any quarterback to ever lace up cleats.
Manning should, and is, respected for all these accolades, and when he retires (he's only 34, and may still have up to five good years left). He will waltz into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Any voter who doesn't cast a vote for Manning to get a bust in Canton would be a fool.
But speaking of busts, has Manning been a bust in his playoff career?
Bust? No. Very successful? No.
Has Manning been a good playoff performer? Not really.
For our purposes, let's forget what Manning has done in the regular season. His achievements were summarized above, and they are the reason he will waltz into Canton, Ohio.
A look into Manning's postseason record shows that in seven of his 11 playoff campaigns, the Colts lost their very first game, including yesterday's loss to the Jets. That's almost impossible to do. Four of those losses were at home.
Per yesterday's game, Manning's passing line was good, if you go by his passer rating (108.7), compiled on an 18-26 day with 225 yards and one touchdown. He had no interceptions and only one sack.
Not bad, but Manning's first three possessions last night were three-and-outs and his fourth also resulted in a punt. It was Indy's much-maligned defense (and the inaccurate throwing of Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez) that kept the Colts in the game long enough for Manning to hit a wide-open Pierre Garcon on a 57-yard strike, resulting in a 7-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, Manning had three possessions and the Colts scored three field goals. Not terrible, but not good enough to get the job done.
Questions to be answered from this early playoff exit include:
How did Manning only target his best receiver, Reggie Wayne (he of the five Pro Bowl berths and 111 receptions this season), one time? Yes, he was covered by Darrelle Revis, but last I looked, Revis had zero picks this year. One would think that he would have figured something out.
Why did Manning, in effect, play for a field goal with his team down 14-10 (14-13 after the short Adam Vinatieri kick) with 4:37 left in regulation? And this was after the Jets just ate the ball for 17 plays and close to 10 minutes on their preceding touchdown drive.
Simply put, the Colts and their superstar franchise quarterback, did not do enough to win the contest, which has been the case in all of Manning's 10 losses. In only one of these games, did the Colts score as many as 20 points, a 28-24 loss at home to the Chargers in 2008.
Manning's playoff highlights include one Super Bowl victory (29-17 over the Chicago Bears in February, 2007), one other Super Bowl appearance (last year's loss to New Orleans) and one other AFC Championship game appearance, which they lost 24-14 to New England.
His best playoff game? A 38-34 win over New England on January 21, 2007 to advance to his first Super Bowl.
So, where does Manning rank all-time, and can we separate the regular season from the postseason?
In the post-Unitas Era (it's hard for me to compare him to guys like Johnny U, Bart Starr, and Otto Graham)—and this is all subjective—I can't put Manning in the class of Joe Montana (four championships), Tom Brady (three, and counting), John Elway (two, in five appearances).
I'm not sure how high to rank Manning in comparison to guys like Terry Bradshaw (four championships, but what a supporting cast), Troy Aikman (three, but was he that good?), Roger Staubach (won two, and lost two to Bradshaw).
And has Peyton, for all his records, been a better quarterback than Dan Marino, Steve Young or Brett Favre?
It's fair to ask these questions, and yesterday's effort did not serve to help Peyton's cause any.
As for his true contemporaries, consider the postseason record of these quarterbacks:
Tom Brady: 14-4, with three titles, and four Super Bowl appearances.
Brett Favre: 13-11, with one title in two Super Bowl appearances.
Kurt Warner: 9-4, with one title in three Super Bowl appearances.
Donovan McNabb: 9-7, 0-1 in one Super Bowl, with five Championship Game appearances to Manning's three.
Ben Roethlisberger: 8-2, two titles.
Drew Brees: 4-3, with one title.
Of these names, I would (without any hesitation) take Brady over Manning, and it's not even close, whether for the regular season, or (especially) for the postseason.
I would think about Favre, but probably still favor Manning.
As for the others, I would take any of them over Manning in a big game, but I'm not ready to say that their careers have been as good.
All this begs the question: Looking at his total body of work, how great has Hall of Famer Peyton Manning really been?
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