Eli Manning hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in his career in February after grinding out a win in Super Bowl XLVI. It is clear that he has what it takes to win in the playoffs.
He has shown a penchant for coming up big in the postseason. His brother Peyton, on the other hand, though the superior and more consistent regular-season signal-caller, has struggled in January and February.
Peyton did earn Super Bowl MVP honors in 2007 after leading the Indianapolis Colts on a 4-0 postseason run to claim his lone Lombardi Trophy. His other postseason performances, though, have always left the Colts wanting more.
Nobody can dispute that Peyton Manning is one of the all-time great quarterbacks. In fact, he clearly stands out as the best regular season quarterback in league history.
He is a four-time league MVP, and his career record in the regular season and consecutive starts speak for themselves. If he recovers from his neck injury in Denver, he might very well own every significant passing record when he retires.
His regular season success, though, does not mean that the future Hall of Famer should be absolved from criticism for his team’s repeated failures in January. He has racked up seven one-and-done postseason exits-the most of any quarterback in NFL history. Overall, he owns a 9-10 record in 11 playoff appearances, whereas Eli is an incredible 9-3 with two Super Bowl MVP awards.
The one year he did hold up the Lombardi Trophy, a vaunted Tony Dungy defense covered up Manning’s poor playoff stat-line: three touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Manning’s struggles in big games go back to his college days. Often overlooked is his benching in the 1998 Orange Bowl against Nebraska-his last game at Tennessee.
But why exactly does the most gifted pocket passer in league history consistently come up short in the postseason?
Every year, it is a new excuse: a rash-string of injuries, no running game, weak offensive line or a poor defense. But the real reason for Colts’ lack of postseason success was the stubbornness of the offensive coordinator during the playoffs.
I’m not talking about Clyde Christensen or Tom Moore. The real offensive coordinator of the Colts over the past decade was, in reality, Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning is the closest player to an NFL coach. He studies film like none other. Before the snap, he dictates the protection of the offensive line, makes coverage reads in the secondary and calls audibles to select the right play.
Manning’s supposed football mastermind, though, failed the Colts come playoff time virtually every year. His high-scoring, regular-season offense flat-out sputtered in the postseason.
“Manning needs help,” argues Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports. He’s bought the broadcast-booth hype that he can compete with Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan and other high-priced defensive coaches in a game of chess.”
The key factor that prevents Manning’s regular season records from translating into postseason victories is that the postseason is a different ball game. Coaches know to break tendencies when the postseason starts by tweaking personnel, switching formations and adding new plays.
In fact, Belichick and Ryan love to play against Manning after the turn of the calendar year. A good football coach can always out think a player, even one as intelligent and talented as Peyton.
“Belichick never takes a helmet-to-helmet hit during a game,” Whitlock reasons. “He never breaks a sweat trying to escape a pass rush. He focuses and thinks for three straight hours.”
Manning needs to learn to pick his battles in future playoff games. He must realize he cannot keep up with coaches on the sideline while he is on the field beat up from hits and drenched with sweat.
He must stop trying to prove that a player can outsmart a coach.
“Manning can’t win that battle. He should focus on proving he’s better than Brady, Montana and Elway. Let a real coach match wits with Belichick.”
1. Jason Whitlock. “Vick admits weaknesses; Peyton can’t”, Fox Sports.