The Significance of Peyton Manning's 2013 AFC Championship Victory Over the Patriots

Posted on April 12, 2014 at 6:50 PM
Overlooked in the aftermath of the Denver Broncos loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII is the significance of the team's win over the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship game. Despite Peyton Manning's record-shattering success during the 2013 regular season, a postseason duel against Tom Brady, with a conference championship on the line, yielded some of the heaviest pressure of Manning's career.

Many overlooked the obvious—while Manning led the league with an astounding 37.0 QBS, Brady's abysmal 5.0 QBS was the worst of his professional career. 

Even though Manning's career postseason passer rating actually exceeds Brady's, the league's MVP still carried the perception of being the inferior playoff performer. It didn't matter that Brady hadn't won a Super Bowl since Johnny Manziel was a 12 year old middle school student—Manning was the quarterback labeled as the one with something to prove. The trying circumstances Manning faced, along with the caliber of team support he was provided with has mostly flown under the public's radar.

  • The Broncos had 13 players on the injured reserve—including two starting offensive linemen and six starting defenders.
  • The Broncos sported the 27th ranked passing defense and allowed a 24-point collapse vs. the Patriots on 11/24/13.
  • The Broncos sported the 22nd ranked scoring defense—the worst to support a league MVP in the awards' 57 year history.
  • Manning played the game injured, with nerve damage and an ankle that was taped and supported with a custom brace.

January 19th, 2014 proved to be a defining moment in the careers of both Manning and Brady. Not based solely, or even primarily upon the magnitude of the conference championship game, but rather, because the performances delivered by both quarterbacks mirrored the actuality of their careers—strongly opposing the public's collective perception. Both quarterbacks faced the pressure of carrying imperfect teams deep into the postseason and to secure a victory on the conference championship stage meant that one of the two legends would have to rise to the occasion and play through the pressure. Modell's paid the price for expecting Brady to be that quarterback.

Manning: 32 of 43 (74.4) for 400 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions

Brady: 24 of 38 (63.2) for 277 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions

On paper, Brady's production, while underwhelming, wasn't horrific. But when taking into consideration the caliber of the Broncos' 27th ranked pass defense that was without Von Miller and two of their starting defensive backs, it can be argued that Brady's performance in the 2013 AFC Championship game was worse than Manning's in Super Bowl XLVIII. He not only failed to produce against a bad, injury-plagued defense, but he looked noticibly dispirited— routinely overthrowing open receivers while costing the Patriots opportunities to put points on the board. Brady had won multiple conference championships while playing poorly in the spotlight, but his team-support failed to bail him out on this occasion. Manning led the Broncos to 507 yards of total offense—the highest total ever produced against Bill Belichick's Patriots during his 250-game tenure as the head coach. Younger, future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, in perfect health, with better support, on lesser stages, never accomplished that feat.

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