Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, has a 9-11 record in the playoffs, and increasingly, his teams have been ousted in his first game. In his last five trips to the postseason – with Indianapolis and Denver – Manning’s team have been bounced in the first game four times. The other year, they went to the Super Bowl and a 4th quarter pick-six from Manning ended a comeback attempt against the Saints.
Obviously, nobody is pinning these recent playoff losses solely on Manning. Last year it was his defense giving up an improbable long touchdown in the 4th quarter (and then Manning threw an interception in overtime). In 2011 against the Jets, the Colts couldn’t stop the run, and Mark Sanchez engineered a late-game drive to win the game.
In 2009, the Colts lost the coin flip in overtime, and the Chargers never gave Indianapolis the ball back. In 2008, the 13-3 Colts lost at home to the Chargers, even though San Diego had to win it with backup QB Billy Volek after Philip Rivers left the game injured. (Star running back LaDanian Tomlinson also was injured in the game.) It’s not like Manning was awful in these four losses – 8 TDs, 4 INTs – but when the player he’s linked most with in his career, Tom Brady, is 17-7 in the postseason with three Super Bowl rings, it unfortunately will always be a talking point.
[Aside: Brady hasn't won a Super Bowl since 2005. Yes, as a disgruntled Jets fan, I had to get in that dig.]
Manning’s Broncos host the Chargers in the late game Sunday, the spot that always features the biggest draw (that’s Peyton), and generates the biggest ratings. Undeniably, Manning, 37, faces more pressure than any player or coach this weekend. The Colts are playing with house money in New England; nobody expects Sean Payton to win in Seattle; Cam Newton is making his postseason debut.
Is this fair to Peyton Manning? Of course not. It’s possible that Peyton Manning is the greatest regular season QB in NFL history … and yet with another 1st-game playoff defeat, people could call him a ‘choker’ in the postseason, even though many of the defeats have been due to his defenses, as we’ve chronicled before. In a year when the Broncos signed Wes Welker and Manning set another NFL record, the least-talked about story is how odious the Denver defense has been (2nd in yards per play allowed last year; 16th this year). The Broncos are 27th in passing yards allowed, and the defense has given up 28 or more points five times this season. Reminder: Philip Rivers will not have to worry about pass-rushing menace Von Miller.
Denver is playing at home, a 10-point favorite, and the weather should be pleasant enough that for a day, all the Peyton “cold weather” narratives can be shelved.
For Peyton’s sake, I just hope that Broncos defense can stop the run, something it didn’t do the last time these teams met.
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