After Sunday’s Super Bowl victory, it was guaranteed that quarterback and five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning would retire with a storybook ending. Once the clock hit zero, you could already feel the tears coming from the online legion of Manning-haters (mainly New England Patriots fanboys).
3. Peyton Manning can’t play well in cold weather
Although it’s not as common as the other listed reasons, more knowledgeable football fans that try to detract from Manning will claim that his record and play in cold-weather games is indicative of a quarterback that shouldn’t be looked to as one of the greats. These people will often cite Manning’s early playoff failures at the hands of the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Sample size aside, this is an argument that holds no merit when you realize that almost every quarterback ever plays slightly worse in bad conditions, since ball conditions are not exclusive to only Manning. In fact, during Manning’s incredible 2013 season, he had a 115.9 passer rating when outdoors, which went up to 116.5 in December that year.
Forget the statistics for a moment and just use common sense. Are other quarterbacks somehow impervious to conditions that make throwing the ball innately more difficult? Moreover, the ability to play in cold weather is not more important than the ability to play in warm weather. Otherwise, we may as well discount a good portion of Joe Montana’s career because he played in relatively sunny San Francisco.
Sure, you could say that playing in harsh conditions is more likely during the playoffs, but you’d also have to admit that it’s just as important actually getting there and maintaining a consistent level of production. Just think about how absurdly specific the standards of “cold weather playoff games” are. They’re not going to single-handedly trump the 90 percent of other data that matters when determining a quarterback’s legacy.
2. Peyton Manning chokes in big games
People obviously remember Manning’s playoff failures and use them as ammo to criticize his career. In addition to having the first half of his career be defined by regular season dominance and playoff disappointment, he also has a 50/50 record in the Super Bowl, including a humiliating 43-8 blowout at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. The nine “one and dones” by Manning-led teams seem to essentially hammer the nail on the proverbial coffin, his critics say.
The thing about playoff games is that, contrary to what many people think, every game matters. If we’re going to harp on Manning and call him a choker for a few of his bad performances, we also have to take the good into account and realize that losing at any point in the playoffs has the same consequence: getting eliminated from the playoffs. In other words, Manning shouldn’t be remembered only for losing later in the playoffs, but also actually getting there through consistent high-level performances.
Take his brilliant play against the 2009 Jets, when he tore up arguably the best secondary in football with three touchdowns, no picks and a 123.6 passer rating. The following year, he proceeded to put up a 108.7 passer rating against the same team, which later stymied and eliminated New England from that same postseason. If you think that’s all, then consider his 400-yard annihilation of the 2013 Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
It’s not as if Manning somehow learned how to play late-season football near the middle of his career. In 2003, when he won his first ever MVP award, he eviscerated the Broncos and Chiefs in the playoffs to a tune of a 158.3 passer rating (perfect) against the former and a 138.7 rating against the latter team. After losing in humiliating fashion against the Patriots, he then unleashed his anger on the Broncos again the ensuing season (145.7) before his second loss to New England.
The point is, you can cherry pick any of his bad or good games to point any “version” of Manning you feel. When you look at his whole playoff resume, he still stands strong with an 8:5 touchdown to interception ratio, more than 7,000 yards thrown and an 87.4 passer rating in the playoffs in 27 games. It’s not as impressive as his regular season production, but that holds true for almost every quarterback and is still a small piece of a much larger puzzle.
Let’s say that after all of this you still feel like Manning is relatively disappointing in the postseason. Just consider that W-L record is ultimately a team record, and Manning’s latest Super Bowl victory while playing at a sub-replacement level throughout the season means that even assuming he underperforms, it’s not exactly a guaranteed recipe for failure.
1. Tom Brady’s existence somehow invalidates Manning’s career
As is always, it’s almost impossible to mention one without the other. They’re like Ali and Frazier; Magic and Bird; Russell and Wilt - pretty much almost every sports rivalry. Without a doubt, Manning v. Brady is the greatest quarterback rivalry in NFL history, and most of his biggest detractors would say that Brady should be the one getting credit as the best ever.
But consider how all of those arguments that I just disproved above could just as easily be spun against Brady. If Manning is bad in cold weather and big games, what exactly were Brady’s stinkers against the, 2005 Broncos, 2009 Ravens, 2013 Ravens and 2015 Broncos all about? Did he magically forget how to play in cold-weather or in big games, like when the Patriots blew a chance at a perfect season in possibly the greatest Super Bowl upset ever or when he was dominated by the same 2010 Jets that the Patriots beat earlier that season 45-3?
That’s not even counting games that the Patriots won in spite of Brady. We forget his bad games against the 2001 Raiders, 2003 Titans, Chargers from 2006-2007 and even against the 2012 Ravens because of the outcome. In these games, Brady had passer ratings of 70.4, 73.3, 57.6, 66.4 and 62.3. Why don’t we act like Brady has had moments where he looked more Trent Dilfer than Joe Montana?
Assume for a moment that Tom Brady’s career from 2001-2004 was actually a different quarterback from the one who started gaining consistent MVP consideration from 2005 onwards (winning his first of two in 2007). Would anyone even with just borderline basic football knowledge claim that this quarterback is better than a two-time MVP with only one ring?
The point isn’t to prove that Manning is somehow clear cut better than Brady (Brady’s postseason statistics are a solid 2:1 TD to INT ratio, just under 8,000 yards and a 88.0 passer rating in 31 games). It is to demonstrate how ridiculous the arguments against Manning’s case for greatest ever are, and how they could literally be applied to almost any quarterback ever. It’s much easier to say #ringz and regurgitate false narratives than it is to actually evaluate decades-long performances and watch the games.
If Manning retires, hopefully we will all soon realize what a talent we’ve seen play football, rather than argue over arbitrary and generalized criteria on what constitutes the best quarterback ever. He may not be perfect, but Manning’s legacy is certainly transcendent, and one I hope everyone will soon learn to appreciate.
Anokh Palakurthi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @DC_Anokh.