There's a funny reversal in the air in Indianapolis this week. For years, it was Colts fans and people in Indy who would go to bat to defend quarterback Peyton Manning from the critics who accused him of failing in the postseason. "It wasn't Peyton's fault," Colts fans cried in unison.
For this one week in January, however, Manning is the enemy. He's leading the Denver Broncos now, and the Colts are getting ready to travel to Denver to take on those Broncos. Something that never seemed possible will become reality: Peyton Manning will be leading his team against the Colts in the playoffs. It's a surreal feeling, cushioned somewhat by the fact that it's the third meeting between the two sides, but surreal nonetheless.
What's almost equally amazing is the change in narrative from Colts fans. Now, on talk radio shows around the city and message boards on the internet, the conversation is that Manning is a "choker" in the playoffs. It's one thing to realize that he's the opposing quarterback this week, but it's another to completely rewrite history.
Colts owner Jim Irsay, however, isn't buying it. He never has, and he never will. If you ask the owner and CEO, he doesn't think his former quarterback and "dear friend" Peyton Manning hasn't played well in the playoffs. "I really didn't" buy into that discussion, Irsay said during a press conference on Tuesday at the Colts' complex.
"I really think Peyton plays at such a high level and plays so great that people put expectations that are unrealistic," Irsay said, "because I really think whether you get one, two, three championships, a lot more is involved. I think you look at Peyton's dad and that's the case. Archie (Manning) was maybe better than any of these guys we're talking about potentially. I mean he was a great player but wasn't surrounded with the right things. I've heard it before sometimes, it's mentioned when you guys talk about it that you get someone like Peyton or Andrew, it's an instant 10 wins. That's not the way it is. You guys were here in 2001. Peyton was young, healthy and in his prime; we won six games. That's because you have to surround, it's a team game. You can't expect to just get a quarterback and then your problems are over. You have to combine getting that quarterback with wise decisions and great coaching and a great surrounding cast because you need that all to get to the top.
"So I think, of course I'm disappointed we didn't get more than one when we were in that era but everyone that was part of that era is disappointed in that," Irsay continued. "I mean, of course you are, but you're so proud of what you accomplished. Us winning 12-or-more games seven years in a row, I don't know if that will be duplicated again in this league. It's tough to win once you get to this level. You want a chance, that's all you want. So I don't see that with Peyton. I think he's one of the greatest players ever to play the game at his position; he's going to be in that conversation when you talk about it. When you talk about (Tom) Brady, you talk about him, you talk about (John) Elway, how many ultimate championships they get and those things depend on a lot more than just those guys alone."
Critics of Manning will point to his 11-12 record as a starting quarterback in the postseason and his one Super Bowl ring. But at the same time, he should get credit for steering his teams to thirteen different playoff appearances, too. He should get credit for his 6,589 postseason passing yards, which rank as the most in NFL history. His postseason passer rating of 89.2 ranks as the tenth-best mark of all-time. And his statistical drop-off probably isn't as big as you would have thought, especially considering the elevated level of opponent talent in the playoffs:
|Games||W-L||Cmp %||YPA||TD %||INT %||Rating|
When considering that in the playoffs the quality of opponents is much higher, doesn't it make sense for Manning's stats to be a little lower than his regular season stats? Of course it does. And the only thing that really is significantly different is his touchdown percentage, but everything else is relatively close.
And I don't think we have to go over it again about how postseason wins are a team stat, not an individual quarterback stat. The fact that Peyton Manning is playing the Colts in the postseason this week (and therefore is the enemy for a week) doesn't rewrite history. And just because Colts fans say this week that Manning struggles in the postseason doesn't make it true, even though they'd probably like it to be right now. Simply put, postseason record is an incredibly overrated and inaccurate stat to judge a quarterback by, considering how much goes into it. And when looking at it truthfully, Peyton Manning hasn't been a bad postseason quarterback.
Jim Irsay mentioned the 2005 Colts team that went 14-2 and said that they were "as good of a team as this league has seen," yet that team lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs after getting a first round bye. I agree with Irsay that it was the best team the Colts had during the Peyton Manning Era. And that team didn't win it all. In the playoffs, there's a lot of factors that come into play. The best team doesn't always win, and it's certainly never accurate to judge a quarterback simply by his wins and losses. Sometimes, great teams lose to other good teams. That's just the way it is. And the Colts are hoping that's the case again this weekend when the Colts travel to take on Manning and Broncos. It's not about the myth that Manning is a choker in the playoffs. It's just how the NFL postseason works.