It's a familiar story. Peyton Manning carries an unbalanced, injury-riddled team further than they truly belonged, only to receive the brunt of the blame when his team's inadequicies are exposed on national televison. With a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, many have jumped off the "corination bandwagon" right onto the "blame Peyton bandwagon"— How predictable.
Despite being 2.5 point favorites, the Broncos left MetLife Stadium without "getting the job done."
Prior to the start of the postseason, I illustrated the historical improbability
of the Broncos winning a championship with such an incomplete team. Understanding the reality that was 47 prior years of Super Bowl history, it's not surprising that the eventual outcome was what it was. Of course, that doesn't matter in the minds of the analytically inept and it's always an uphill battle trying to convince people otherwise when their simplified standards are often rooted in years of misunderstanding. Historical analytics doesn't slow down to argue—it just leaves the reality there for all to see.
- Peyton Manning: 34 of 49 (69.4) for 280 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. 73.5 passer rating.
At first glance, the "stats" aren't pretty, unless you actually watched the game and understand the context of how they came to be. Manning's two interceptions were not the result of poor throws. The first came after Julius Thomas was wrapped up in coverage and failed to reach the end of his route—which is exactly where Manning put the football. The second interception came as Manning was being mugged, causing the football to flutter in the air, get picked off, and returned for a touchdown.
Overlooked is the fact that against the NFL's top-rated pass defense, Manning broke the all-time record for most completions (34) in a Super Bowl—bettering the mark (32) held by Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Also overlooked is the fact that he completed an astounding 69.4 percent of his passes, and that's not even accounting for drops.
You can blame Manning all you want—remember, there are absolutely no qualifications required to possess an opinion.
Denver came into Super Bowl XLVIII with a defense ranked 22nd in scoring and 16th in forced turnovers. That's not good.
Only one quarterback in 48 years of NFL history has ever won a Super Bowl with a defense that ranked below 20th in scoring and outside of the Top-10 in forced turnovers, and to no surprise—it wasn't Joe Montana, Tom Brady, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman. It was Peyton Manning in 2006.
On top of being backed by a defensive unit whose ranking has yielded zero Super Bowl championships (outside of Manning in 2006), the Broncos delivered one of the worst rushing performances in Super Bowl history.
- Broncos: 14 carries for 27 yards (1.9) and 0 touchdowns.
- Seahawks: 29 carries for 135 yards (4.7) and 1 touchdown.
To average a putrid 1.9 yards-per-carry while running into defenses loaded up in nickel-plus is nothing short of historically shameful. The same offensive line that did a terrible job protecting Manning also failed to create holes to run through—not that the a Broncos team ranked 17th in rushing efficency had set any precident for being able to produce on the ground.
Seriously, who should expect any quarterback to win a Super Bowl with this?
- 13 players on the injured reserve.
- 17th ranked rushing offense in efficency.
- 22nd ranked scoring defense.
- 16th ranked defense in forced turnovers.
When you add the 13 players the Broncos had on injured reserve to the equation, then analyze the history of the last 48 championship teams, you come to the realization that zero quarterbacks in NFL history have ever won a Super Bowl under such circumstances. It would be one thing if Montana or Brady won championships under such circumstances, but they didn't—not once.
Championship Scoring Defenses: Montana and Brady
- 1981 San Francisco 49ers: 2nd
- 1984 San Francisco 49ers: 1st
- 1988 San Francisco 49ers: 8th
- 1989 San Francsico 49ers: 3rd
- 2001 New England Patriots: 6th
- 2003 New England Patriots: 1st
- 2004 New England Patriots: 2nd
Which begs the question: Why criticize Manning for not closing the deal with team support that has yielded zero championships in 48 years?
The reality of course, is quite distant from the perception. People tend to simplify the NFL's history in their struggle to understand its complexity.
Despite not having won a Super Bowl in nine years, despite postseason losses to Jake Plummer (2005), Peyton Manning (2006), Eli Manning (2007), Joe Flacco (2009), Mark Sanchez (2010), Eli Manning (2011), Joe Flacco (2012) and Peyton Manning (2013)—Brady is still regarded as an elite clutch performer.
Few know that Manning actually has a higher postseason passer rating (89.2) than Brady (87.5).
NFL Postseason Passer Rating:
- Peyton Manning: 89.2
- Troy Aikman: 88.3
- Tom Brady: 87.5
- Brett Favre: 86.3
- Steve Young: 85.8
- Warren Moon: 84.9
- John Elway: 79.7
The differential between his regular season and postseason performance is no different
than most Hall of Fame quarterbacks—including Brady.
Yet we still hear him referred to as the "greatest regular season quarterback" in NFL history.
The regular season accounts for 8,452 of Manning's 9,341 passing attempts—representing 90.5% of his career's body of work. While it has become extremely popular to asses an inordinate amount of value to the playoffs' remarkably small sample-size of work, the results don't paint a pretty picture in respects to the validity of doing so.
Mark Sanchez's 94.3 postseason passer rating ranks amongst the best in NFL history. He has a playoff win over Brady's No. 1 seeded 14-2 Patriots in Foxborough to his credit—out-performing the 2010 "regular season" MVP on his home field with the season on the line. Sanchez is the same quarterback who is now close to becoming a benchwarmer in 2014, despite his excellent postseason resumé. During the same regular season that pundits are quick to dismiss for Manning, Sanchez sports a horrific -5.0 career QBS
If winning in the postseason is the true measure of a quarterback's greatness, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco could have been considered the league's finest heading into the 2013 season, having won the previous two Super Bowls. But after we saw them start to throw some passes—that was clearly out the door.
- Eli Manning: 317 of 551 (57.5) for 3,818 yards, 18 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. 69.4 passer rating.
- Joe Flacco: 362 of 614 (59.0) for 3,912 yards, 19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions. 73.1 passer rating.
In 2013, it was Russell Wilson and the NFL's 26th ranked passing offense that brought home the Lombardi trophy. While few will overlook the impact of the league's top defense, Wilson will still be credited as a "winner" who cared more about victories than "big numbers."
Production and victories are not trade-offs. Incomplete teams like the Broncos rely on a quarterback like Manning to score points for them so that they have an opportunity to win football games. Well-rounded teams like the Seahawks can win football games in spite of their quarterbacks' lack of productivity. Wilson 53.4 total QBR in the 2013 postseason is the second lowest of any Super Bowl winning quarterback since the statistic began being tracked in 2006—just above Ben Roethlisberger's 52.3 in 2008.
That won't change historically challenged opinion-speakers from proclaiming him a "winner" who gets the job done.
Did you know: On Sunday, Manning passed Brady to become the all-time leading passer in NFL postseason history (6,589 yards).
From a quarterback perspective, there's no doubt that becoming the leading passer in NFL postseason history is a much bigger story than Russell Wilson's 26th ranked passing offense riding the coattails of a dominant defense to win a Super Bowl.
If Wilson's team placed 13 players on the injured reserve, gave up a safety on the game's first play, averaged 1.9 yards-per-carry instead of 4.7, gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown, allowed the opposing defense to beat his body into the ground, while giving up points at will—do you really think he would be a champion right now?
The reality of circumstance-driven team sports is not often as glamorous as we want it to be.
The Seahawks deserved to win Super Bowl XLVIII. They were the best team in the NFL collectively and it shouldn't shock anyone that they won the football game. Manning's legacy has never been about playing for the NFL's best team, or striking it rich on four-game postseason winning streaks. Totality is the definitive measure.
His resumé is the finest in NFL history and the misfounded, unstudied opinions of the credulous masses doesn't change that.