Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos ignominiously bowed out of the NFL playoffs yesterday with a stunning 38-35 double overtime loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens. For Manning, who has led his team to the playoffs 12 of his 15 years in the NFL, it was the eighth time a team he quarterbacked checked out after their first game.
Colts fans know this pattern only too well. Seven of Manning's one and done appearances came while he was under center in Indianapolis. For all of Manning's greatness (and he is without a doubt one of the all-time greats at the position) Peyton has had a nagging inability to take his teams to the ultimate prize.
It started while Manning was an All-American at Tennessee. Manning never defeated arch-rival Florida during his career and in his only "BCS" bowl appearance, Manning's Vols were throttled by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl during Manning's senior season.
Manning's 12 years of playoff appearances in 15 seasons is nothing short of incredible. Yet when he starts taking snaps in the post season, his overall record is 9-11 including the eight losses in an opening game. It's not all Manning's fault, to be sure. Manning didn't play safety yesterday like a kid just out of tee ball trying to track a fly ball. But with this big of a sample size, it's clearly a major blot on an otherwise sterling career.
A big reason for Manning's lack of post-season success was on display yesterday. For all of Manning's precision accuracy and his unmatched ability to outthink his opponents at the line of scrimmage, Manning simply cannot make plays outside the pocket. Colts fans saw it throughout his career in Indianapolis and Broncos fans saw it yesterday. When Manning is presented with a significant rush from the opposing front seven, he more times than not either gets rid of the football out of bounds or drops to the fetal position. Yesterday's game turned on Manning's inability to make a play while being rushed in overtime. When flushed from the pocket, Manning threw a pick.
While Manning is arguably the greatest pocket passer ever, his inability to extend plays outside the pocket is what has kept his teams from winning in playoff situations. While Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers might only possess a fraction of Manning's other skills, they've shown an ability to extend plays with their legs. In playoff football, when the pass rushers are better and quarterbacks are inevitably asked to make plays that aren't necessarily in the playbook, Manning has come up short.
Peyton Manning will be enshrined in Canton as soon as he is eligible. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks, Manning's visage would have to be carved into that rock. But Manning will never be known as the "greatest" because he hasn't been able to finish in the big games.
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