Eli Manning Is Still No Tom Brady
Yet with “elite” status handed out to NFL quarterbacks more readily than university boosters give cash handshakes to student athletes, it shouldn’t come as such a surprise.
Sports pundits are far too fickle when it comes to anointing, and dethroning, top-tier quarterbacks.
True, Giants’ quarterback Manning orchestrated a gorgeous game-winning drive to upset the mighty New England Patriots Sunday. True, Manning posted superior statistics to Brady that day.
But one victory and half of an improved statistical season do not an elite quarterback make. Nor do a few losses and half a season of statistical struggles taketh away, as Philip Rivers’ detractors would have sports fans believe.
Unsubstantiated trends and single-game performances are far too often used to judge what a quarterback at the professional level is made of.
Take Michael Vick.
His incredible comeback win against the Giants last season was dubbed the greatest of all time by a quarterback, and in a flash Vick went from question mark to franchise QB. The phrase, “best in the league” was thrown around a lot.
This season, he’s managed to do little more than keep one of the league’s more all-around talented squads out of last place in its division.
The Ben Roethlisbergers and Peyton Mannings of the football world, who come out swinging early in their careers and never miss a beat, are rare. It can take years of study and multiple miscues for a quarterback to reach his stride, like in Aaron Rodgers’ case. Or a young man can look sharp for a few seasons, then fall off and fail to recover, like Jeff Garcia.
How many 49er fans had thrown out their Alex Smith jerseys, only to hold him up now that he’s working with a coach who knows how to highlight his skill set? How many Bengal fans believed Carson Palmer was the answer for their team, but have transferred their affections with a bang to Andy Dalton?
Week to week analysis, and even full seasons, can never hope to tell a quarterback’s story. The only true measuring sticks of an active signal caller’s legacy are championship rings and exceptional statistical achievements.
That’s how the greats are remembered.
If Brady retired today, his three Super Bowl rings ensure he’d remain a legend for the foreseeable future. If Peyton Manning retired today, his spot near the top of almost every NFL leaderboard is good enough to secure his gridiron sainthood.
If Eli Manning retired today, he’d be remembered as the man who once stole a championship from Brady.
That’s not to say the younger Manning may still become one of the best.
At 30, he certainly has the years left to win titles and move up in the statistical rankings (where he now hovers around 10th on most of the notable leaderboards for active QBs). He’s shown flashes of Brady-like greatness this year, when it comes to spreading the ball around and performing in the clutch.
But how can we know his 2012 season won’t be like last year’s effort, when he threw 25 picks?
Instead of making snap judgments and doing weekly 180s, let’s give quarterbacks a chance to marinate, checking their temperature only once they’re well seasoned.
Quarterbacks would be free to flourish or flail without wondering whether one off-week would destroy what they’re trying to build, or if a single week’s offensive explosion would set up unreachable expectations for the rest of the season.
Brady and Roethlisberger could enjoy their plural championship rings and spots at the top until someone actually, rightfully unseats them. Eli Manning could be free to chase that dream without being denigrated, then lauded, in consecutive weeks.
Imagine waking up to that.
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