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Peyton Manning's Legendary Playoff Meltdowns

Randy SavoieAnalyst IIFebruary 4, 2010

Listening to ESPN's coronation of Peyton Manning this week, it would have been easy to forget about his NFL playoff travails prior to the Colts Super Bowl season of 2006.

Manning might as well have had "CAN'T WIN THE BIG ONE" tattooed on his forehead before the Indianapolis Colts' dramatic 2007 AFC Championship Game win over the New England Patriots, 38-34. 

At last, he finally conquered his fiercest rival Tom Brady and two weeks later won the Super Bowl in a steady—if not spectacular—performance over the Chicago Bears in Miami, 29-17.

Author James Alder writes of Peyton Manning's spotty playoff record over the years.

"The Indianapolis Colts moved from the AFC East to the AFC South as the NFL re-aligned in 2002 and divided into eight divisions. And they bounced back to post a 10-6 record, which was good enough for second in the division and a wild-card playoff berth.

"Despite posting his typical 4,200 yards passing during the regular season, Peyton Manning and his Colts flopped once again in the playoffs. This time suffering an embarrassing 41-0 loss to the New York Jets.

"Over the next few years of Manning's career, there grew a continuing theme; rip through the regular season, but stumble in the playoffs. Things in the post-season began to get so bad that some suggested he just didn't have what it takes to win the really big games."

Alder notes that Manning's big-game problems began at Tennessee. He writes, "Despite a highly successful college career, Peyton Manning's time at Tennessee ended on a sour note when the Volunteers were dropped by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl.

The highly-touted QB went 21-for-31, but posted a season-low of 134 yards passing, along with one touchdown pass and one interception."

Here's a look at Manning's Top 5 NFL playoff meltdowns:

1.Dec. 30, 2000

Dolphins beat Colts 23-17 in OT wild-card game

In Manning's third season in the league, Indianapolis gained a wild-card berth after finishing second in the AFC East to the Miami Dolphins. Manning's postseason ended in disappointment again; however, those same Dolphins came away with an overtime victory in the first round.

Manning's performance made the loss even more sour as he posted his third-lowest completion percentage of the season and tossed just one touchdown pass. 

The defeat was a stunner for the Colts, who came into the playoffs with three consecutive wins.

"Everybody is just frustrated," said Peyton Manning, who threw for Indy's lone touchdown. "Looking back at it now, there were just a lot of missed opportunities. We got field goals and didn't get touchdowns."

2. Jan. 4, 2002

Colts lose to the 41-0 in playoff rout 

Manning was a miserable 14-for-31 for 137 yards and two interceptions. His team had the ball for just 19:42, only 7:44 in the second half.

Manning, who consistently barked instructions to his teammates at the line of scrimmage—often to no avail as New York's aggressive defense applied steady pressure—is 0-3 in the playoffs, and this was the worst of those defeats.

"I tried to be patient,'' Manning said, "but I got to be impatient because the more you get in the hole, they more they take you out of your game plan. So I ended up doing a lot of things I shouldn't have.''

3. Jan. 8, 2004

Colts lose 24-14 to the Patriots and miss Super Bowl Opportunity. Manning has four TO's.

Adler wrote, "The Colts were less fortunate during the AFC championship game, and a new nemesis for both the Colts and Manning was born as the New England Patriots ended what looked to be a sure Super Bowl run, 24-14. The Patriots took Manning out of his comfort zone right from the opening whistle, holding him to just 237 yards passing, but more importantly, they forced him into four uncharacteristic interceptions."

4. Jan. 16, 2005

Colts Again Lose to the Patriots 20-3

"In the divisional round of the 2004 playoffs, the Colts once again were ousted 20-3 by what was quickly becoming their biggest rival and a dynasty-in-the-making in the New England Patriots.

"And once again the Patriots seemed to have Manning's number, holding him to just 238 yards, no touchdowns, and a 69.3 passer rating; his lowest of the season excluding a limited performance in the season finale in which he threw just two passes before sitting out the rest of the contest," wrote Adler.  

5. Jan. 15, 2006

Colts Lose to the Steelers,  21-18

"The Steelers featured a very formidable defense that utilized zone blitzes to keep opposing quarterbacks guessing as to where the pass rush was coming from. And they kept Manning out of his comfort zone, sacking him five times and keeping him from ever really getting into a good rhythm," wrote Adler.

"He completed 22-of-38 passes for 290 yards, which isn't bad by most standards, but it was far enough below the standard Manning had set for himself that it of course once again brought out the doubters in his ability to even take his team to the Super Bowl let alone win one." 

ESPN considers this information irrelevant. It would take precious time away from the coronation of Peyton The Perfect.

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