Indianapolis Colts

The Vanquished

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Sunday night on the NFL Network’s Gameday Final  with Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Steve Mariucci, Sanders relayed a conversation he had with actor Rob Lowe on the field prior to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

Lowe asked Sanders how the game would shake out. Deion, in blunt terms, said of these two Pro Bowl quarterbacks one would “choke”. Alas, once Peyton Manning’s pick six landed into the endzone via Tracy Porter and the Saints had delivered New Orleans its first world championship, Sanders stated he thought Manning “choked”.

Whether that harsh statement is justified, it is a reality that Indianapolis must live with until September. No one embodies that statement quite like Manning, who had a lot on the line including winning a  second Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Right, wrong or indifferent, most following the game constructed a tale that if Manning’s Colts surpassed the Saints on Super Bowl Sunday, it would be Lord Peyton at the top of the food chain for quarterbacks. Much like Tom Brady found out in Super Bowl XLII, there is a fine line between greatness and being left on the backpage of the sports section.

Obviously, it does not take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that in some way, shape or form, Manning will bounce back. He’ll return to put up his usual regular season fare. However, for the first time in a long time, we saw a guy who seemed uneasy and jumpy.

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During the fourth quarter on Sunday night, we saw the Peyton Manning that took nine seasons to reach the Super Bowl. The guy who looked queasy in the postseason; not the guy who pundits proclaimed was on the doorstep of all-time iconic status.

To me, Manning is not of the Montana-Unitas-Brady-Elway stock. He does not raise his game consistently during the postseason in tight spots. The son of Archie and brother of Peyton is a terror in the regular season. Yet, when it comes to tight postseason contests, he lacks the verve to get over the top.

With Sunday’s Super Bowl loss, he is 9-9 now in the postseason. As everyone learned on Sunday night, it’s one thing to beat up the Houston Texans during the regular season but its brand new ballgame trying to tie or win a Super Bowl with a clutch drive.

For those who consider Manning, the greatest quarterback of all-time, I’ll leave you with the following. Not only is Manning a .500 quarterback in postseason play but there is an issue with him in close games. His lone shining achievement was during the 2006 AFC Championship game versus New England. The Pats ran out of gas and the Colts nipped them at the finish line 38-34 to go the Super Bowl.

Otherwise, his performances in close games leaves a lot to be desired. Here is a look at Manning’s numbers in postseason games decided by seven points or less compared to quarterbacks who started in at least two Super Bowls.

Quarterback Record SB Rings
John Elway 8-3 2
Tom Brady 6-2 3
Kurt Warner 6-3 1
Joe Montana 5-2 4
Terry Bradshaw 4-1 4
Bart Starr 3-1 2
Ben Roethlisberger 3-1 2
Bob Griese 3-2 2
Craig Morton 3-2 1
Jim Kelly 3-3 0
Roger Staubach 3-4 2
Johnny Unitas 2-0 1
Fran Tarkenton 2-1 0
Jim Plunkett 2-2 2
Peyton Manning 2-4 1
Brett Favre 2-5 1
Joe Theismann 1-1 1
Troy Aikman 0-0 3

Now, am I suggesting that I’d rather have Craig Morton than Manning in the last two minutes of a game? Absolutely not. Only those on the Morton family tree would suggest such a thing. However, when you are in Favre territory for clutch play, that’s a problem.

Even though Sunday’s game was not decided by seven points or less, it definitely showed that Manning once again ran into a mental roadblock in the clutch. You can’t be considered the greatest of all-time at quarterback when your lone Super Bowl win was over Rex Grossman and you shrink in big spots.

Until next season, Peyton…

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