Growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, I assume it’s fitting that I became an Indianapolis Colts fan. From the second I heard the words,” And with the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Peyton Manning of the University of Tennessee”, I was hooked. Since then, Manning has forged a career that few have even come to close to accomplishing. If he continues at this pace, the 3-time MVP will break most NFL passing records by the time he decides to hang it up. Indy also had a coach in Tony Dungy that many consider one of the best in the league. Dungy is the only coach in history that has one at least 10 games for 6 straight years. Not enough for you to? Manning’s favorite target, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, is now second on the NFL career receptions list behind only the great Jerry Rice. Top this off with a typically excellent line, numerous Pro-Bowlers,and defense that should get you by, you have a team that should have won at least two championships. That being said, the Colts are underachievers. Let me explain.
Every year the Colts come into the season with lots of potential. Typically Indianapolis fields a team built around the pass with a solid run game and defense built to play with the lead. All of these work well in the regular season, but come playoff time, the Colts struggle. After 10 years of homering Manning and the Colts, I have to ask: Where does the blame lie? Should I question the guy I have been following since college? After much thought, I decided I have to defend my boy.
It seems the popular thing these days is to blame Peyton. I will admit, there have been times in the playoffs that Manning hasn’t played his best. During the Colts lone Superbowl run, Manning was 97 of 153 (63.4%) for 1,034 yards, 6.8 YPA, 3 TD, 7 INT, 70.5 passer rating. His career QB rating in the playoffs is 84.7, far below the 94.6 Qb rating he averages during the regular season. Still knowing this, I have to defend my guy. While the Colts have been surrounded by talent, its still all about Manning. This team has lived and died by his laser rocket arm. The regular season is much different than the playoffs. Ball control becomes very important, and your flaws tend to be shown very brightly in the lights of the playoffs. In Manning’s time, the Colts have never been able to play the grind it out ball control game. The Colts have never had the dominating defense that will go out and shut a team out. Typically a team will play keep-away from Manning. This means pounding the ball on an undersized defense and (typically) scoring at will. When the opposing offense grinds out the clock and scores lots of points, it puts Manning in a situation where he is forced to make quick scores and take lots of chances.
This year, for the first time in Manning’s career, he found a way to win by playing ball control. He was taking what the defense gave him and allowing the Indianapolis defense to rest. He was also doing this while recovering from knee surgery and playing with a very young and inexperienced offensive line. Due to this inexperience, the run game suffered dramatically. Despite this turmoil, Peyton was able to shine when the game was on the line. He played his best with the few chances the offense was given. Unable to run or stop the run, Indy’s season was completely in Manning’s hands and he found ways to win. Ultimately the season would end the same. Failed conversations, missed attempts, and the Colts left questioning what happened.
For those still questioning Manning after the playoff loss I ask: What more did you want the guy to do? The Colts were beaten in every aspect of the game except of the passing. San Diego (like many other teams) were able to swarm the line with few defenders and drop everyone else back. Without the running, game play-action became obsolete. While the Colts defense played good enough to win, failed third down conversations, and crucial penalties at the end of the game doomed Indianapolis. Is one and done Peyton’s legacy? A few years ago all I heard was Peyton can’t win the big one. He needs to win one Superbowl to establish his legacy. Well he won a Superbowl, something many great quarterbacks have never done, but now all I hear is, “Manning has to win one more to be truly successful”. Come on…
Simple argument I know, but for the sake of time I will boil it down to this. If Manning had Brady’s defense, how many championships could he have won? I would argue that Manning has done more for his team in the last ten years than any other player (including Brady). For example, look at the Pats this past year. Are they a much better team with Tom Brady? Clearly. However, you can’t ignore that Matt Cassell led this team to 11 wins and they were playing like a playoff-caliber team. If the Colts had lost Manning to injury this year (not to mention that he clearly wasn’t 100 % due to a bursa sac infection), they might have won 2 games.
Basically, I am saying give the guy a break. Year in and year out no one means more to their team than Peyton Manning. Football is the complete team sport. In basketball one guy can take over a game and lead his team to win. Without a consistent line, Manning becomes just another quarterback. Without solid defense, Manning plays from behind and takes too many chances. I say that the Colts have underachieved, but I realize football is a team sport that requires all positions to play at a championship level. At least Peyton Manning is a championship level quarterback.
Oh well, I guess I will just go put on my 1998 Tennessee BCS championship t-shirt and my 1995 Atlanta Braves Championship hat while I read my 2006 SI Super Bowl edition and cry myself to sleep.