The joke around the Patriots media work room a couple of weeks ago was whether football writers would be allowed to vote for a player as NFL MVP without that player having taken a snap in a game this season.
Everyone laughed for a moment, dismissing it out of hand. But then I thought, well, if ever there were a case to be made, it’s for Peyton Manning in 2011.
Furthermore, let’s get this straight: Peyton Manning is the most valuable quarterback of his generation.
If this season has proven anything, the Colts were solely and completely built around the skill set of their starting quarterback.
When you take Peyton Manning out of the mix, a winless season to date and a big lead in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes is the result.
When Tom Brady went down in the 2008 season-opener, Matt Cassel stepped in and had a viable cast of football players around him. And more to the point, Cassel knew the team’s offense much better than Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter. The ’08 Patriots won 11 games. The ’11 Colts are 0-for-11 and counting.
This weekend, we’re on to quarterback No. 3: Dan Orlovsky, the legend of UConn football.
Peyton Manning is the most valuable.
But Tom Brady is the most accomplished and most outstanding quarterback of his generation.
Why? He has three Super Bowl wins to Manning’s one. He has led the Patriots to four appearances on football’s greatest stage, and if not for the fact that Asante Samuel dropped an easy interception, and Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour failed to wrap Eli Manning, and Ellis Hobbs got burned by Plaxico Burress, there would be no debate at all.
Statistics? It was Brady, not Manning, Dan Marino or Drew Brees who posted the greatest single season in NFL history. And I’m not even talking about 2007 when he threw 50 touchdown passes.
His 2010 season of 36 touchdowns and four interceptions is the greatest, most accurate performance in modern NFL history.
Given the weapons, Brady put up bigger numbers than Manning. All you have to do to Manning supporters is flash 2007 in their face and that ends that.
Manning was responsible for running the entirety of the Colts offense while Brady had more checks and balances, starting with the head coach.
Speaking of the coach, what does Belichick think of the Colts offense without Manning?
“It’s identical,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s their offense. No huddle, they go at a fast pace. It’s hard to substitute. You have to be ready to play defensively with whoever you have on the field; you have to be ready to play first, second and third down with them. You can’t count on getting anybody in or getting anybody out.”
“Or if you put a group in on third down and they convert, you can’t count on getting another group back in on first down, so you have to be ready to play consecutive plays. Painter and Orlovsky, both of them, whoever has been in there, they’ve both done a good job of changing plays, taking advantage of looks, they’ve hit some big plays, a couple of long passes against Tampa on audibles. They hit another one on Carolina last week. They do a lot of the same things; same thing in the running game. They’ve done a good job checking to runs against overloaded looks or light fronts and [Delone] Carter and [Joseph] Addai and [Donald] Brown rip off a lot of good runs in that off tackle, their zone play. They’ve done a good job matching that up, too. I don’t see any change there at all, no.”
As my friend and esteemed colleague from the New York Daily News Mark Feinsand said this week, “just like ‘The Office’ is "identical" without Steve Carell?”
Only “The Office” is still watchable.
“It’s the same relative level of performance,” Belichick continued. “I’m not saying all the players are the same, but the play looks good, it’s like you’re looking at the receivers, you’re looking at the coverage and it was a good pass, ‘Who threw that? Was it [Tom] Brady? Was it [Brian] Hoyer?’ You know.
Well, this year, you definitely know Manning is not throwing the passes for the Colts.
So, when he looks across the field at the 0-11 Colts on Sunday, will Brady have a greater appreciation for what Peyton Manning does?
“I think sometimes we take for granted winning here because we’ve done that, but it’s hard to win an NFL game,” Brady said. “Every team has talent. Every team can only spend to the cap; you can’t spend over it. And the draft and the way that’s built … so, it’s hard to win games. It really is. You never want to see a team have that kind of season, because you know how miserable you are when we lose two in a row. At the same time, our job is to go out there and perform as well as we can against them this week and that’s what we plan to do.”
Colts coach Jim Caldwell certainly doesn’t take anything for granted anymore. Caldwell, with the help of Manning, led the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV, a game they controlled before Saints coach Sean Payton got cute and tried an onside kick to open the second half.
Manning threw a pick-six to Tracy Porter, game, set and Super Bowl over. Manning went from Super Bowl dignity to infamy in one throw.
That’s the difference between Brady and Manning. Brady's Super Bowl legacy took a hit because the defense couldn’t make a stop. Manning negatively influenced his legacy because of an ill-fated pass.
Just like in 2003 and 2004, when the Patriots manhandled Manning in the playoffs in the elements of Foxboro. Brady had one of those in the 2006 AFC championship game in the swealtering RCA Dome, but that and the playoff loss in Denver in Jan. 2006 are the only two that come to anyone’s mind when laying blame of a playoff loss at the feet of the Patriots QB.
“One of the things that you find out is I don’t take anything for granted, so it didn’t take me long,” Caldwell told New England reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve been in this business for quite a few years and I’ve never taken anything for granted. Every day that we have the guys that we have playing around us, and with us, and for us, are tremendous people and we know the kind of value that they have for our organization.”
What would be the positives of getting Manning back for a couple of games this season? Just to see if he can play in 2012?
“I’m not even going to discuss that because it’s not even something at this particular point that we know is going to happen or not going to happen,” Caldwell said. “We don’t know. That’s what the evaluation is for. That’s what the doctors have been monitoring. And what we have to do is we have to play with who we have right now in terms of focusing in on this next game coming up.”
Let’s go to the Trags Bag and sample opinions from the tweeps. The question: Does 2011 once and for all prove who’s more valuable to their team?
@RichCampbellJr @Trags depends who you replace them with! Matt Cassel is a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Very fair point. Cassel went on to sign a multiyear deal with the Chiefs, leading Kansas City to the 2010 AFC West title. Cassel also had the benefit of playing in an extremely weak AFC West and a Pro Bowl running back in Jamaal Charles. Cassel had the benefit of a weak schedule in 2008, playing both the AFC and NFC West when both were down.
@PatriotBomber RT @Trags Here's the right q: Do we finally know that BB is the real reason why Patriots keep onwinning after looking at '11 Colts?
Well, yes and no. As he will tell you, Belichick and Robert Kraft have instilled a culture in Foxboro over the last decade in which the entire team is bigger than any one player or coach -- no matter how big, even Belichick or Brady. Whether or not that is literally the case is irrelevant, because it’s what every player believes when they come here. It’s why Chad Ochocinco, despite not getting the ball much this year and in the midst of a disappointing season, is keeping his mouth shut. Belichick certainly is the kingpin of the operation and the one singular voice in charge of football operations.
@hurricanept @trags Better, more accurate question: Did we finally find out which organization is better?
Insofar as which team didn’t rely on one player for its success, no question. Maybe the Colts overestimated their ability to stop offenses with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Maybe they overestimated the ability of Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai to make plays, even with Painter under center.
@KWAPT @Trags Fair to say it's ManningFace:
You mean the same face we’ve seen from Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter and the same one we’ll see Sunday from Dan Orlovsky? That one? Well, in this regard, the Colts HAVE been successful in following in Peyton’s footsteps. Cheap shot, I know.
Thursday was one of those days that make Boston -- as I note on my Twitter page -- “the best sports town in America.” Period. End of story.
In Waltham, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers held court high above the parquet floor at their practice facility, expressing glee over the start of the NBA season this month and showing love for Rajon Rondo.
Two hours later, at TD Garden, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien met the media with David Krejci on the occasion of the center’s three-year contract extension.
Then, to cap it all off, in gourmet-meal style, Bobby Valentine was introduced as the new Red Sox manager in a pomp-and-circumstance ceremony at Fenway Park, befitting one of the most important and significant coaching jobs in sports.
My takeaway from the day that left my head spinning:
The Rajon Rondo rumors will continue to dominate every aspect of the Celtics camp until Danny Ainge speaks with Rondo and Rondo accepts the message.
The new NBA CBA is the most convoluted in sports history. Amnesty clauses, taxpayer mid-level and a three-tiered free agent market. Our outstanding NBA beat man and colleague Paul Flannery did an outstanding job of breaking it down on Green Street, but still @pflanns had to sit me down for several minutes to explain it to me.
When it all flushes out and Ainge fills out the roster, there will still be the same questions about the age of the Big Three and we will have basketball at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day when the Celtics open their 66th season against the Knicks.
As for the Red Sox, no press conference anywhere in town is celebrated more than when a new manager is introduced at Fenway. Thursday was no different. No fewer than 30 TV cameras were on hand, and reporters started filing in two hours before the 5:30 p.m. first pitch from Ben Cherington -- with wraps, no less, on hand for the media to feast on.
The Red Sox always have been about the buzz. They badly want to maintain their status as kings in Boston sports. They did so again on Thursday, but still there are so many questions beyond the ones asked during the three hours Red Sox executives made themselves more than available. Was it really Cherington's hire? Will Valentine have a tough enough skin to handle the fans? Can Valentine manage after 10 years out of the majors? Is he the right voice to get through to the players in the clubhouse?
These are questions that only can be answered once Bobby V. talks with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and others this winter.
It was evident from the media three-deep around owner John Henry, CEO Larry Lucchino and GM Ben Cherington that they are trying to repair the damage from one of the worst PR hits any Red Sox team has ever taken from firing a manager.
Also evident was Valentine's engaging personality, both during the press conference and afterward as he shook hands and took time to meet everyone he could. That’s part of the job he figures to master.
As he walked around inside and outside the State Street Pavilion, it was obvious that this kingdom is now his.
For how long? That’s a question for another press conference. Three is enough for one day.