Is the “Peyton Manning is the Greatest of All Time” debate finally over?
Let’s hope so. It would be nice to turn on a radio or open a newspaper again without feeling nauseous.
Never in the long, shameful history of over-indulgent and factually challenged pre-Super Bowl analysis has there been a more concerted and unfounded effort to jam a square peg of hype into the round hole of historical truth than the one we witnessed this year.
The pigskin “pundits” tried to tell us that Manning was poised to become the Greatest of All Time heading into Super Bowl XLIV. The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, told us that Manning wasn’t even going to be the best quarterback on the field on Super Bowl Sunday, let alone the best ever.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, were correct. The pigskin “pundits” were wrong. Did anybody who watched Super Bowl XLIV believe after the game that Manning was better than Drew Brees, let alone the best who ever played?
Didn’t think so.
But they should have known all this ahead of time. You simply had to look at the numbers from the Cold, Hard Football Facts, which flatly refutes the Manning as G-O-A-T argument.
Sadly, though, the “Manning is the Greatest of All Time” issue will arise again next season because the football world can not let it go. The pigskin “punditry” declared Manning the Chosen One soon after he was born of the Virgin Olivia in 1976. The “punditry” has vested a lot of time, ink and energy in perpetuating the myth that he’s the best we’ve ever seen.
So they’re committed to perpetuating this ideology rather than the truth, much like former newspapers such as The Boston Globe are more committed to perpetuating a political ideology rather than reporting the news.
The ideology is why, for example, Manning was named NFL MVP in 2009 despite the fact that players such as Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees were better quarterbacks and had better seasons by every conceivable measure of success.
We actually have a name for this phenomenon over at Cold, Hard Football Facts: we call it Spinal Manningitis. It’s a disease that eats away at the central nervous system of the pigskin “pundits” and renders them incapable of analyzing football or accepting the truth that Manning is a great quarterback but not even in the discussion of best of all time.
Amnesia, meanwhile, is another symptom of Spinal Manningitis.
Victims of SM in the sports media quickly will forget that Manning wasn’t even the best quarterback in the NFL in 2009, let alone the best of all time. They’ll forget he wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field in Super Bowl XLIV, let alone the best of all time. And they’ll certainly forget yet another in a long line of subpar playoff performances by Manning in the biggest game of the year.
They’ll forget that the Indy offense woefully underperformed in Super Bowl XLIV, scoring just 17 points against a porous defense, and they’ll most certainly forget that, with the Super Bowl on the line in the fourth quarter, Manning threw a crushing pick-six — a moment certainly not worthy of G-O-A-T status.
(If all this sounds familiar to you, including the selective amnesia, it should. These were also the symptoms we found among members of the Cult of Dan Marino in the 1980s and 1990s.)
So rest assured that, some time in the 2010 season, when the Colts produce another 12- or 13-win season, the “Manning=G-O-A-T” issue will arise again.
When it does, here are some Cold, Hard Football Facts you need to store away in your arsenal of analysis so that you can blow up that debate in about two seconds.
That’s the number of epic goal-line stands the Indy defense produced in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints faced first-and-goal at the 3, second-and-goal from the 8 (after a penalty), third-and-goal from the 1 and fourth-and-goal from the 1 and failed to score.
Victims of Spinal Manningitis, much like members of the Cult of Dan Marino, always blame the defense first. But the truth is that the very good Indy defense surrendered just six first-half points (and 24 overall) against the NFL’s No. 1 offense and made enough big plays — including this epic goal-line stand against the league’s best offense — to keep the Colts in the game.
A team armed with that kind of playmaking defense and with the Greatest of All Time quarterback probably would have found a way to win.
That’s the number of times in the past eight seasons that Manning has played with a defense that ranked in the top eight in scoring. The Colts were No. 8 in the NFL in scoring defense in 2009. The Saints, for their part, ranked No. 20 in scoring defense.
The 2005 Colts ranked No. 1 in scoring defense; the 2007 Colts ranked No. 1 in scoring defense. Neither team won a playoff game.
But blaming the defense is the old crutch of the excuse-makers. For example, you probably didn’t know that Dan Marino twice played with the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. It doesn’t fit the storyline of the heroic gunslinger victimized by the bad defense.
Same goes for Manning: Noting that he’s spent half his career playing with a Super Bowl champion-caliber defense doesn’t fit the storyline.
That’s the record of quarterbacks who throw a pick-six in the Super Bowl. Manning now joins that inglorious list with the likes of Fran Tarkenton, Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner, who did it not once but twice, first against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI and last year against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
A pick-six in the Super Bowl is a death sentence. And it’s a death sentence that was issued by Manning himself in the biggest moment of Super Bowl XLIV.
That’s Manning’s record as a postseason quarterback. That’s .500, and last we checked, .500 was considered “very average” not “Greatest of All Time.”
Here’s how some other notable contemporary and all-time great quarterbacks:
Bart Starr — 9-1 (.900)
Ben Roethlisberger — 8-2 (.800)
Tom Brady — 14-4 (.778)
Joe Montana — 16-7 (.696)
Troy Aikman — 11-5 (.688)
Drew Brees — 4-2 (.667)
In each case, these quarterbacks won more frequently in the postseason than they did in a regular season. In other words, their teams were better in the playoffs than they were in the regular season.
The all-time great teams and quarterbacks step it up in the playoffs. Manning and his teams clearly step down in the playoffs.
This is one number that, all by itself, refutes the notion of Manning as the G-O-A-T.
It’s the pathetic number of points the Colts have averaged in their nine Manning Era playoff losses. That’s bad, real bad, especially when you consider that the Colts routinely head to the playoffs with an elite regular-season offense.
Manning apologists can and will blame the defense for Indy’s playoff woes. Heck, 48 hours after the Super Bowl, Manning cultist Colin Cowherd was on his radio show already blaming the defense for Manning’s playoff woes.
But the 14.0 PPG figure says it all pretty clearly: the Colts lose playoff games because their quarterback and their offense go in the tank each and every postseason.
Super Bowl XLIV was a classic example. The Colts averaged a very good 26.1 PPG in 2009; they were up against one of the worst defenses in the league, a Saints unit that had surrendered 21.3 PPG (20th in the NFL).
Yet when push came to shove in the biggest game of the year, Manning and the habitually underachieving Indy offense produced just 17 points, including a meager seven points over the final three quarters.
Once again, Manning’s performances fell drastically when the games counted most.
That’s the number of interceptions Manning has thrown in 18 playoff games, including the back-breaking pick that was returned for a touchdown by Saints cornerback Tracy Porter in Super Bowl XLIV.
We’ve discussed the importance of playoff picks here and elsewhere over the past couple years. Quarterbacks who throw picks lose games. The math could not be simpler.
And Manning throws picks in the playoffs, better than one per game.
Drew Brees, No. 2 all time in postseason passer rating, has thrown just two picks in six playoff games and 225 pass attempts (0.89 percent). That’s the lowest playoff INT rate in history.
Bart Starr, the greatest playoff quarterback in history, threw just three picks in 10 playoff games and 213 pass attempts (1.41 percent). That was the lowest playoff INT rate in history for four decades, until Brees broke the mark this year.
Manning, not even in the discussion of all-time postseason passer rating leaders, has thrown 19 picks in 18 playoff games and 692 attempts (2.75 percent). It’s actually fairly consistent with his INT rate in the regular season: He’s thrown 181 picks in 192 games and 6,531 attempts (2.77 percent).
But, once again, you’d expect the G-O-A-T to improve the playoffs. Once again, Manning does not improve in the playoffs.
The number of points the Colts defense surrendered per game in 2009, No. 8 among scoring defenses.
That the number of points the Saints surrendered per game in 2009, No. 20 among scoring defenses.
The Greatest QB of All Time managed to put up just 17 points against that defense in the Super Bowl, including just one touchdown over the final three quarters.
And if anyone could have leaned on a porous defense as an excuse, it would have been Drew Brees and the Saints.
That’s Manning’s passer rating in two Super Bowls — 10 points below his regular-season average.
The Greatest of All Time would raise his game in the Super Bowl. Manning has had two chances now and has underperformed in both Super Bowls.
That’s Manning’s passer rating in 18 playoff games — nearly eight points below his regular-season average.
Once again: bigger games, lower performances.
That’s Manning’s regular-season passer rating, fourth all time behind Steve Young (96.8), Philip Rivers (95.8) and Tony Romo (95.6).
It’s a great number for Manning, and he’s done it over far more games, years and attempts than those other quarterbacks high on the leaderboard. But if you consider “stepping it up” in the playoffs something required of the Greatest of All Time,” then Manning certainly fails badly in that respect.
In fact, his performances decline dramatically in the playoffs.
That’s Brees’ postseason passer rating, the second-best mark in history. Brees, in other words, has stepped up his performances in the playoffs.
That’s the postseason passer rating of the great and completely underrated Bart Starr, and that’s No. 1 in history.
Starr was considered something of a role player on talent-laden Packers teams. But the truth is that he’s the only quarterback in history with a ring for every finger of his throwing hand because he passed the ball better in the playoffs than any quarterback in history.
It’s a also a number that puts Manning’s 87.6 postseason passer rating to shame. Manning plays most of his games indoors or in warm weather and has the benefit of rules intended to favor the passer. Starr played outdoors, often in mind-numbing cold, and played in an era when defenders could maul receivers and quarterbacks.
Yet Starr clearly was a much better and more productive quarterback in the playoffs than Manning.
If Manning had produced in the playoffs like Starr did, he probably be sporting five rings himself these days. But he didn’t. And he’s not.
Here’s what Manning is:
He’s a future Hall of Fame quarterback with an accurate arm and quick mind who’s had the benefit of playing his entire career with great receivers and pretty good defenses in a stat-inflating dome. He’s a great quarterback and a good guy who has a long list of people across the nation invested in touting him the best ever. He makes funny commercials and seems to have a great family. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback who plays very well in the regular season but not so hot in the postseason.
He’s a great quarterback, in other words. But simply not in the discussion of Greatest of All Time.