Unabated to the QB, Championship Weekend: The Brilliance of Peyton Manning

“This is a gift I have, simple, simple! a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions. These are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion.”

—Holofernes, Love’s Labours Lost

Over the past several seasons, I have really disliked the Indianapolis Colts. This dislike has manifested itself in tangential attacks on the city of Indianapolis, the Colts’ fan base, the fact their stadium is a dome, and even their more or less beyond approach uniforms. The exact derivation of my distaste for Indianapolis was, for a time, unclear. After all, there are few teams pre-adolescent Tim latched onto as intensely as the 1995 Colts and Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh.* I was disproportionately disappointed when Ted Marchibroda left the Colts to coach the Ravens, and even more so when that Indy team slumped to 3-13 in 1997.

*And by “latched onto,” I mean rooted hard for in the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh.

The Colts used their No. 1 pick that year to draft Peyton Manning, and I haven’t really liked them since.

It’s getting harder and harder for me to justify my objections to Manning. I used to say he was overrated because he couldn’t win big games; now he does. I used to say he benefited from excellent wide receivers; now he makes Collie and Garcon look like Rice and Taylor. I used to say he had a great running back; now he has Joseph Addai, and Edgerrin James needed Manning a whole lot more than vice versa. I used to think Manning was an overbearing and serious guy; now we all know he’s as self-deprecating a pitchman as the sport has ever seen. *

*I mean “pitchman” in terms of an advertiser; not some sort of old-timey way of saying “quarterback.”

On the field, Manning will likely end his career with the best statistics a quarterback has ever had, and as much as we can try (and I have tried) to negate that reality with points about the bloated statistics of modern quarterbacks and all the weapons Manning has had and the fact that his home games are played in a dome, we can all pretty much agree that Peyton Manning is a strong-to-quite-strong contender to be the greatest quarterback ever.

All the while, Manning puts up these gaudy numbers and 12-win seasons with a consistency every bit as unreal as his stats. He is the closest thing we have come to putting a computer program under center: An “If defense does x, then do y” process seems to run through his mind before every snap, and the vast majority of his throws are not only on target, but perfectly on target, allowing his receivers to catch them in stride.*

*Manning is so often praised for his pre-snap smarts that his physical gifts—you know, like the ability to throw a football to a precise spot over long distances—end up somewhat underrated.

I suppose my last resort is to blame my dislike for Manning on this machinistic consistency; now that he has overcome the playoff failings that have plagued him, he has become a less interesting case study. Even as the Jets built that 17-6 first-half lead, there were few objective fans who thought they would win the game. When the Colts scored at the end of the first half, the game was practically over. We all knew Indianapolis had it in hand.

But as Manning has become a less compelling case study, he is also becoming a much more interesting historical figure—one who, if he wins the Super Bowl two weeks from now and manages to add at least one more title before the end of his career, will eliminate almost all doubt that he is the greatest quarterback ever and will merit serious consideration as the sport’s greatest single player (football, unlike baseball or basketball, does not really have a consensus “best player ever.” It isn’t too far-fetched to conceive of Peyton Manning changing that.).

But I still don’t like him.

  • I’ll be honest: I was surprised and impressed by the moderation shown by Jets fans in response to the loss on Sunday. I had expected to see some “Same old Jets” and “Jay f’n Feely” Facebook statuses, but all I got was “Great season, guys”-type stuff. It was a nice showing by the Gang Green Faithful.
  • I still disagree with the notion, most recently expounded by Bill Simmons, that the Jets have a particularly long-suffering fan base. How is their history any worse than that of the Chiefs? Both teams won the Super Bowl early on, both teams haven’t been back since January 1970, both teams have lost heartbreaking playoff games in double overtime and a second-round game because of missed field goals. What exactly separates them?
  • Now, if you want to talk about tortured fan bases, look no further than the loser in the other championship game Sunday. The Vikings dominated the game in pretty much every sense, except for the “Hold on to the football” one. Like I said in the NFC Championship Live Blog, I don’t know how the all-time Vikings’ pantheon of losses shapes up, but it’s hard to see this one below anything but the 1998 NFC Championship loss to Atlanta. (Just in case you’re wondering, I can’t possibly see a Vikes’ fan thinking this was worse than ’98 unless the justification is that this is made worse by the accumulation of championship-loss experience. Any Minnesotans who want to make a different case, I’m listening.)
  • Oddly enough, throughout the entirety of that NFC Championship, I never got the sense the Vikings were going to win. I always felt the Saints were in control, even when this was clearly not the case. In fact, the exact opposite was true. The Saints were never in control of that game. And so I wonder what prompted this sentiment: Was it the home-field? Brad Childress? Brett Favre? Turns out all three played a factor at the end.
  • In Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King wrote, “No way you can blame Brad Childress for this loss, but he made a couple of odd playcalls and non-timeout calls in the fourth quarter that’ll be debated for a while in the Great North.”

Now, I understand how the conjunction “but” works—usually you say one thing, and the second thing qualifies and kind of undermines that first thing, but only to an extent. You know, something like, “I don’t hate you, but I don’t love you.” However, Peter King’s sentence can be simplified down to, “No way you can blame Brad Childress for this loss, but he made a couple of decisions that directly and drastically increased the chances the Vikings would lose the game.” In other words, it amounts to saying, “I don’t hate you, but I hate you.”

Childress’ playcalling down the stretch was nothing short of unconscionable. Getting the ball with 2:37 left on the clock and three timeouts in a game in which defensive stops had been at a minimum (especially by the New Orleans defense), the Vikings ran the ball twice. Only after the Saints called timeout after the second-down play did Childress decide he couldn’t run out the clock on the game. Do you understand this? Brad Childress was playing for overtime! With 2:37 and three timeouts! He thought he had a better chance of winning a coin toss and then scoring than he did of scoring with 2:37 and three timeouts! He showed less respect for his offense in that moment than Bill Belichick did for his defense in Indianapolis!

And that’s not even the worst part! After modifying his stance and going for the win through the air and driving into New Orleans territory, Childress again put the clamps on. He had Favre hand off to Chester Taylor for 14 yards to the NO 33. The Saints called their last timeout with 1:06 to go. All Minnesota had to do was gain five yards for a makeable field goal and 10 for an easy one. Hand off to Taylor, no yards. Now, the Vikings still have two timeouts. But instead of calling one here or running the second-down play with about 40 ticks left, they run it down to 25 seconds before handing off to Peterson, again for no gain.* Minnesota calls timeout with 19 seconds left. Now, the Vikings are left with two options: 1. Run again to center the ball, calling timeout with five seconds left for a 50-yard field goal; 2. Pass the ball to try and make it a 40-yard field goal with roughly 12 seconds remaining. I think we can safely assume Childress would have run the ball had Minnesota not picked up an Illegal Substitution penalty—one that is unfathomable coming out of a timeout.** Now he goes with a pass play—a smart, safe one at that—and Favre makes the crucial mistake—one that I would say was borne out of the idea that Favre wasn’t trying to make a field goal easier, but to make one possible. That’s a big difference in the mindset of a quarterback.

*Anyone who wants to make a “Childress was playing it safe and smart by not letting Favre make a mistake” argument needs to realize that Childress gave the ball to Adrian Peterson—the same guy who had fumbled three times in the game (even if only two were credited to him).

**And that cost the Saskatchewan Roughriders the Grey Cup.

In the end, the only way to defend Childress’ series of play calls in the final minute is to claim that the chances of Ryan Longwell missing a 51-yard field goal were lower than the chances Brett Favre would throw an interception. And even knowing Longwell’s numbers from 50+ yards and that Favre did throw an interception, Chilly still made the wrong call.

  • A Colts-Saints Super Bowl does not vindicate Indianapolis for resting its players. The only thing that could justify that decision is if the Colts had still beaten the Jets and Bills in the regular season. Case closed.
  • Somebody help me out: Was that a great NFC Championship, or just a good one? It was definitely exciting, but not exactly well-played, and in that vein reminds me of the Giants-Packers game from two years ago—which I can’t objectively judge because, subjectively, that was like the third-greatest game ever.
  • I’m sick of overtime apologists. The best overtime ideas I’ve heard/conceived are one in which you must score six points to win (so either a TD or two field goals) or you play a non-sudden-death 7:30 mini-quarter where, if it’s still tied, you play a second 7:30 mini-quarter where the other team gets the ball first and, if it’s tied after that, it’s tied.
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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on January 26, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    What the hell? No Camus? Outrageous!

    Reply

  2. Posted by soulmerchant on January 26, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    Beyond approach, or beyond reproach? Do they have some freaky forcefield? That would explain why Manning gets sacked so seldom.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Josh on January 26, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    As we discussed, I, too, am skeptical of claims that the Jets have a long-suffering fan base and was a bit surprised when Simmons claimed that. But, then again, I have very poor memory of the Rich Kotite era.

    I think another thing impressive about Manning is that his Offensive Line isn’t that great. As John Clayon put it, “The Colts have a former Arena League II player at right guard, a short 6-foot-3 left tackle playing on a sore foot, a former undrafted left guard and a banged-up right tackle.” And, he’s just extremely intelligent: he took the first series or two to understand the Jets blitz scheme and that was that. Lito Sheppard comes in the game? Throw right into his coverage area (Although, you need not be too intelligent to do that).

    Reply

  4. Posted by James Schneider on January 26, 2010 at 5:16 PM

    I told John this, but I think they should have had college overtime just for that game.

    Reply

  5. Posted by doc on January 26, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    Uhhhh….I know it was the aughts, but Tim, do you still go with Brady over Manning, particularly if he wins his second Super Bowl, which he will? Technically, this is an aught season by the way. Manning is just awesome – I saw an interview where he said he reviewed the Colt/Ravens game from 2005 at great length. Why? Rex Ryan was the defensive coach and Manning felt that Ryan would use similar defensive schemes, which he did. And, as you implied, Manning has never had the team support that Brady had during the Patriot era, which I hope is now over.

    Reply

  6. […] *You don’t? I thought you paid attention. […]

    Reply

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