Bronco Busted: Chronicling The One-And-Done Adventures Of Peyton Manning
Of course, people are going to point to Broncos QB Peyton Manning and his legacy when looking back on this game. Given his three TD passes and seven point lead with 1:15 left in regulation, that's probably not fair. Given his unfavorable playoff record (9-11) and mistakes after the Broncos took the lead, the MVP candidate has allowed himself to be in the conversation of why his teams have consistently failed to get it done.
Now, before I really go in on this, let me first state that great players alone don't win championships: Great teams win championships. QBs often get too much credit for success and too much blame for failure. NFL history is littered with guys that some might say are "mediocre QBs" who have won championships (Jim Plunkett won two for the Oakland Raiders in seasons in which he combined for 38 TD passes and 34 INTs) as well as Hall-of-Fame QBs who failed to win a Super Bowl (Dan Marino played for the Miami Dolphins for 17 years and only got to the Super Bowl once, losing Super Bowl XIX) or even get to one (Dan Fouts played in San Diego for 15 years and was 0-2 in the AFC Championship). The QB is important, but not at the expense of the rest of the team and the coaching staff.
That said, Manning compares to Brett Favre as another player known for outstanding longevity, MVP-worthy regular seasons, and a less than stellar playoff record that is critically saved by a single Super Bowl championship.
Favre, the 33rd pick of the 1991 NFL Draft, went to the playoffs as a starter 12 times in his 20 seasons (note: Favre was a third-stringer his rookie season in Atlanta). His 1996 Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over the New England Patriots 35-21 during a postseason in which he threw 5 TDs (including a Super Bowl record 99 yards to WR Robert Brooks) and only one INT. Besides that, Favre has a 10-11 record in the postseason, including three one-and-dones (1998 at San Francisco, 2002 at home vs. Atlanta, 2004 at home vs. Minnesota).
Manning, the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, has taken his teams to the playoffs 12 times in his 15 seasons (note: Manning missed the 2011 season due to neck surgery). He has one Super Bowl win, a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI that capped a season that saw Manning win 44 percent of his career playoff games. Of course, Manning also threw three TDs and seven INTs in four wins that 2006 postseason. Other than that, Manning has a 5-11 record in the postseason, including eight one-and-dones. That would be a long parenthetical statement, so let's break down those eight losses and see if there are any trends:
- 1999 AFC Divisional at Indianapolis: Titans 19, Colts 16. The Colts won 13 games in 1999, their most since moving to Indianapolis in 1984. Manning completed only 19 out of 42 passes (45 percent) against the 1999 AFC Champions, led by QB Steve McNair. Manning got very little help from rookie RB Edgerrin James (56 yards on 20 carries). Verdict: Peyton letdown.
- 2000 AFC Wild Card at Miami: Dolphins 23, Colts 17, OT. Manning had two of his four lowest passing yardage totals against the Dolphins in 2000, and he was kept under 200 yards in the postseason in Miami (17-for-32, 194 yards, 1 TD). The Colts had a seven-point lead with five minutes left in regulation, but the Colts defense allowed Dolphins QB Jay Fiedler (!) to drive 80 yards and throw the tying TD pass to tight end Jed Weaver with 28 seconds left in regulation. The Colts elected to go to overtime; the Dolphins received the kickoff but were forced to punt. Manning actually drove the Colts down to the Miami 31 on an 11-yard 3rd-down completion to WR Marvin Harrison that set up 4th-and-1. The Dolphins jumped offsides, but the Colts declined the penalty, electing to kick the 49-yard field goal. K Mike Vanderjagt missed the kick, and the Dolphins drove the length of the field, scoring on a 17-yard TD run by running back Lamar Smith (209 yards on 40 carries, two TDs, plus 18 yards on three receptions). Colts head coach Jim Mora, who you may know for this rant on the Colts' playoff chances in 2001, would be fired after the 2001 season and replaced by Tony Dungy. His run defense, not Manning's play, was a bigger reason why the Colts went one-and-done in 2000. Verdict: Peyton letdown, but that's awful defense, too.
- 2002 AFC Wild Card at New York: Jets 41, Colts 0. The Colts had a new head coach in Tony Dungy and a top-ten offense and defense. The 2002 Jets finished 9-7, were ranked 22nd on offense and 24th on defense. Jets QB Chad Pennington threw three TD passes, and Jets RBs LaMont Jordan (102 yards and two TDs on 20 carries) and Curtis Martin (67 yards on 15 carries) ran all over the Colts. Peyton Manning (4,200 passing yards in 2002) completed only 14-of-31 passes for a season-low 137 yards, no TDs, and two INTs. The game was effectively over at 27-0 in the third quarter. Vanderjagt, who missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, would criticize Manning and Dungy, which led Manning to call Vanderjagt an "idiot kicker". Next. Verdict: Peyton letdown, and more awful defense.
- 2005 AFC Divisional at Indianapolis: Steelers 21, Colts 18. The Colts started the 2005 season 13-0, but the sixth-seeded Steelers jumped out to a 21-3 lead entering the fourth quarter. Manning (22-for-38, 290 yards, 1 TD, no INTs) threw a 50-yard TD pass to TE Dallas Clark early in the 4th; RB Edgerrin James (56 rushing yards on 13 carries in his last game as a Colt) scored a rushing TD; and the Colts converted a two-point try to WR Reggie Wayne to draw the score to 21-18 with 4:20 remaining. Manning was fortunate to have not been intercepted by Steelers SS Troy Polamalu on the previous drive, as it appeared that Polamalu lost control of the pick after falling to the ground. The Colts forced the Steelers to punt again, giving Manning the ball on the Colts' 18-yard line with 2:31 left. But Manning took sacks on 2nd and 4th down, going four-and-out. Steelers RB Jerome Bettis actually lost a fumble attempting to plunge into the end zone, and Colts CB Nick Harper was barely tackled by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger after a 35-yard return. Manning drove the Colts to the Steelers 28-yard line, where K Mike Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard field goal on 4th-and-2 with 21 seconds left. Vanderjagt would be replaced by former Patriots K Adam Vinatieri. Verdict: Not Manning's best game, besides the obvious missed opportunities at the end. But Peyton's offensive line allowed the fewest sacks in the league in the regular season, and Manning was sacked five times. That's a big reason why the offense went three-and-out five times.
- 2007 AFC Divisional at Indianapolis: Chargers 28, Colts 24. Manning (33-for-48, 402 yards, three TDs, two INTs) gave the defending champion Colts a 24-21 lead with just over ten minutes left in the game after a 55-yard TD pass to WR Anthony Gonzalez. The Chargers also lost QB Philip Rivers (14-for-19, 264 yards, three TDs, one INT) to a torn ACL, while RB LaDainian Tomlinson (28 rushing yards, 20 receiving yards) was done for the game as well. Chargers backup QB Billy Volek and backup RB Michael Turner drove the length of the field, taking a 28-24 lead after Volek's short rushing TD. Manning had 1st-and-goal at the Chargers 9, but failed on 4th down with 2:06 remaining. The Chargers went three-and-out, but the Colts went four-and-out to end the game. Verdict: Peyton letdown, considering the failure to score inside the Chargers' 10. But the Colts couldn't protect the lead against Rivers or Volek.
- 2008 AFC Wild Card at San Diego: Chargers 23, Colts 17, OT. The 2008 Colts were 12-4, but a loss to the Tennessee Titans dropped them to 3-4 and gave the AFC South title to the Titans, forcing the Colts to play the 8-8 Chargers on the road. Still, the Colts came in hot, winning their last nine games, while the Chargers were 25th in defense, giving up the most passing yards in the AFC. Tomlinson (25 rushing yards) was injured again in the playoffs, never returning after scoring a short TD in the second quarter. Manning (25-for-42, 310 yards, one TD, no INTs) threw a 72-yard TD pass to WR Reggie Wayne that gave the Colts a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. But the Colts failed to score again, running only three more plays in Chargers territory on four possessions. Chargers RB Darren Sproles had a big punt return to set up Chargers K Nate Kaeding's 26-yard field goal that tied the score at 17-17. The Chargers received the OT kickoff and Sproles followed up a 31-yard return with a 13-yard reception on 3rd-and-11 at the Chargers 24-yard line to keep a drive alive. After two Colts penalties put the ball at the Colts 20 (field goal range), Sproles ended the game with a 22-yard TD run. Sproles totaled 328 yards via rushing (105, two TDs), receiving (45), kickoff returns (106) and punt returns (72). Manning had a chance to put the game away up 17-14 facing 3rd-and-2 on the Colts' 9-yard line with 2:30 remaining in regulation, but Manning took his only sack of the night. The Colts never saw the ball again, and Dungy has never coached again. Verdict: Not being able to move the ball over the last quarter and a half is tough to excuse, but Manning got little help from his run game (18 yards on seven attempts on Colts last four possessions) while Sproles took the game over.
-2010 AFC Wild Card at Indianapolis: Jets 17, Colts 16. The defending AFC champion Colts had beaten the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship, but other than a 57-yard TD pass to WR Pierre Garcon, the Colts were held out of the end zone. WR Reggie Wayne (one yard receiving) was stuck on Revis Island. With the Colts down 14-10 in the 4th quarter, Manning drove the Colts to two FGs by Vinatieri, the second one from 50 yards out to give the Colts a 16-14 lead with 57 seconds left. But Jets QB Mark Sanchez (!) got the Jets to the Colts' 14-yard line, allowing Jets K Nick Folk to hit a walk-off 32-yard field goal to win the game. Manning threw for 225 yards on 18 completions out of 26 attempts and only one TD, no INTs. It would be his last game in a Colts uniform. Verdict: Peyton letdown. The defense and special teams allowed the game-winning points, but it's a letdown when you average over 27 points a game and you only score one TD.
-2012 AFC Divisional at Denver: Ravens 38, Broncos 35, 2OT. This one is damning. The Broncos came into the game with a 13-3 record, winners of 11 straight. Manning threw for 290 yards and three TD passes, his final one to WR Demaryius Thomas to give the Broncos a 35-28 lead with 7:18 left in regulation. The Ravens failed to score on their next possession, but the Broncos only picked up one first down, punting with 1:15 remaining. Even with Flacco hitting Jones for the tying TD, the Broncos had two timeouts and 31 seconds remaining after the ensuing kickoff and touchback. The Broncos chose to go to overtime. The Ravens received the overtime kickoff, but they punted. The Broncos and Ravens traded punts until Manning was intercepted by Ravens CB Corey Graham. The poor cross-body throw was reminiscent of Brett Favre's INT in New Orleans during the 2009 NFC Championship. It was Manning's third turnover, and the second time Graham had intercepted him (the first being a pick-six). The Ravens picked up enough yardage to set up a game-winning field goal in OT. It was the most points the Ravens had ever allowed in the postseason, but it was also the most points the Broncos ever scored in a loss in over 12 years. Verdict: Manning's turnovers were critical, but the Broncos defense was ranked second in the NFL. They picked the wrong time to give up over 300 yards passing for the first time this season. And John Fox (who I can't endorse as one of the better coaches in the NFL) decided to sit on those timeouts at the end of the first and second halves. Either that, or Peyton got too cold and needed his jacket.
When looking at this wholly, it isn't just Manning who struggles. His running games have failed to back him up in these games, only getting one 100-yard running game (2000) from his one-and-done running backs. His defenses have failed to protect leads. And referring to that 5-11 record in playoff games outside of the 2006 postseason, Manning still has an outstanding TD-INT ratio of 29:14.
But with the notable exception of 2002, all of these games have been decided by six or fewer points, and the last four instances have featured comebacks from the opposing QB. While Manning has 49 career game-winning drives, only one has ever occurred in the playoffs (2006 AFC Championship). Manning has lost his first playoff game under four different coaches (Mora twice, Dungy four times, once with Jim Caldwell, and now with Fox). And it's not like those teams knocking off the Colts were the best teams ever; only the 2005 Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl (jury is still out on the 2012 "Team of Destiny" Ravens).
Manning is obviously Hall-of-Fame QB and one of the best to ever play the position. But he might want to get his John Elway on and win a Super Bowl or two to make up for the stench of going in and out of the playoffs so quickly and often.