Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win ensured Manning would (likely) go out on top. But what will his overall legacy be?
Peyton Manning, after being (an albeit small) part of a team that just won the Super Bowl, is considered to be (for all intents and purposes) retired. But where does his second Super Bowl victory leave him in the pantheon of all-time great quarterbacks?
There are many arguments to be made for a plethora of quarterbacks for the title of the G.O.A.T., but now it’s time to focus on Peyton’s claim for that title, or perhaps even why he should not be given that title.
First, a look at the negatives. Peyton Manning has been to four Super Bowls, and his teams lost two of those games. What makes this even worse is the fact that in both of those games, Super Bowl XLIV vs. New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVIII vs. Seattle, Peyton’s teams were favored. Peyton played decently for Indianapolis against New Orleans, throwing for 333 yards and one touchdown, but he could not pull of a victory and the Colts fell 31-17 despite leading 17-16 after three quarters. Two seasons ago, Denver’s loss to Seattle was a complete and total failure across the board, and despite being two-point favorites, the Broncos (with Manning at the helm) somehow lost by a score of 43-8.
Peyton’s playoff record as a whole gets criticized as well, with the fact that he made the playoffs 15 times in his career, and only managed to win two Super Bowls. Many argue that to be considered as the greatest of all time, he needed more postseason success in his career.
Despite the obvious knocks on his playoff career, his unbelievable regular season statistics seem to more than make up for those deficiencies, and perhaps point to other reasons he did not have much postseason success. Peyton Manning threw for a jaw-dropping 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns, more than any quarterback in the history of the NFL. He has won five NFL MVP awards, a record, beating Tom Brady (2), Brett Favre (3), Joe Montana (2), and John Elway (1).
In 2004, Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdowns to break Dan Marino‘s single-season touchdown passing record of 48. Not to be outdone, Tom Brady broke this record by throwing 50 touchdowns in 2007. A few years later, after missing a full season with a series of neck injuries and surgeries, Manning took his talents to the Rocky Mountains to make way for Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. In his second year in Denver, he threw a whopping 55 touchdown passes, a record that currently stands as the most touchdowns thrown in a single season. In that same season, Manning threw for a still-held NFL record 5,477 yards, which is good for a whopping 342.3 yards per game. His incredible 200 wins in the regular and postseason is good for most all-time (though Tom Brady is likely to break that record next season).
So why did Peyton have a lack of success in the postseason as compared to the quarterback many consider the greatest ever, Tom Brady? The answer lies, as it often does in the NFL, in defense. In Tom Brady’s four Super Bowl victories, defenses lead by great players like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Derrelle Revis, and others forced a combined nine turnovers, a couple of which prevented what looked to be pretty certain victories for New England’s opponents.
In Peyton’s two losses, his defenses produced zero turnovers, and they produced a combined nine turnovers of their own in Peyton’s two Super Bowl victories. Both of these players are phenomenal quarterbacks and champions in their own right, but Brady very obviously had better overall teams than Manning, which explains Brady’s greater postseason success.
Ultimately, however, it is difficult to determine relative greatness, especially at the quarterback position. Everybody has different tentpoles that they believe are more important than others (i.e. Super Bowls) that could tip the scales in one direction or the other. It is also difficult to weigh players who played in different eras, especially as the rules have become more strict on defenses, allowing quarterbacks more free reign.
So, as Peyton Manning’s career draws to a close, it is safe to say that this conversation is nowhere near over. He had a phenomenal career, with numbers the likes of which we may never see again. In his prime, he had a control over the game that was unlike anything anybody had ever seen. His ability to read defenses and know exactly where and when he was going to throw the ball before it was even snapped made it almost unfair at times. Manning vs. Brady vs. Montana vs. Elway vs. Favre vs. Whoever will rage on until some new quarterback comes along and throws for 75,000 yards or wins seven Super Bowls. Until that day, Peyton will always have at least a claim at the title of “Greatest of All Time.”
Besides, wouldn’t it be great if the greatest quarterback of all time was also the funniest?
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