In the moments following Peyton Manning and the Broncos' victory in Super Bowl 50, Patriots fans were out in full force frantically trying to defend the legacy of their beloved Tom Brady. Many such attempts were quite humorous, and one in particular stood out among the rest.
Many are quick to point out that Manning's stat line in his four Super Bowls is less than impressive: he has completed 103 of 155 passes (66.5%) for 1,001 yards (6.46 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, and five interceptions for a passer rating of 77.4. Furthermore, in Manning's win on Sunday night, his performance was lackluster at best: 13 of 23 passing for 141 yards and an interception. According to this group of fans, Manning doesn't deserve credit for that Super Bowl because he stunk, but therein lies the crux of the argument that many (including myself) have been making for years: Super Bowl victories are not the best way to judge how good a quarterback is.
I think Super Bowl 50 is as strong of a case as any to support the notion that Super Bowl wins are the good judge of a team but not of an individual player, and three things in particular help support this: the defense, Peyton Manning, and Cam Newton. Allow me to explain.
First, the defense. Anyone who watched the game on Sunday night realized very clearly that it was a defensive battle and that the Broncos' defense won out with an overwhelming pass rush and very good play all-around. Everyone - including Manning - knows that it was the defense that carried the team to the Super Bowl, yet Manning still gets credit as a Super Bowl champion. This isn't as uncommon as you would think. For example, John Elway won Super Bowl XXXII but was just 12 of 22 for 123 yards and an interception (he did rush for a touchdown). Tom Brady won Super Bowl XXXVI by completing 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger won Super Bowl XL when he completed just 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions. Granted, all three quarterbacks later played very well in leading their teams to other Super Bowl victories, but you get the point: we don't assign "level of worthiness" to Super Bowl victories, so why would we start now? Everybody knows that this Broncos Super Bowl victory is thanks to the defense, and it's not the first time that a star quarterback has been the beneficiary of a good team. It doesn't mean that quarterback played well but rather that the team played well - again, it's not a good representation of how good a particular player was.
Secondly, Peyton Manning. In what was by far the worst season of his career, Manning won a Super Bowl. Manning had been so good for so long, yet won just one Super Bowl to show for it. Then, during a season in which Manning played in 13 games (including playoffs) and completed 58.9% of his passes for 2,788 yards (6.6 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions for a passer rating of 69.5, he won another one. Good luck explaining that one if you want to hold on to your rings narrative. Peyton Manning did not play well in 2015 and he didn't have a good game in the Super Bowl, yet he's the champion. The idea of ranking quarterbacks based solely on Super Bowls must answer for that one, and there's not really a good answer.
Thirdly, Cam Newton. He didn't play well in the Super Bowl either, but I'm rather going to look at something else intriguing about Newton - he was the MVP of the NFL this year (rightfully so) and didn't win the Super Bowl. In fact, only ten times in the 50 Super Bowls did the MVP of that season win the Super Bowl, and it hasn't happened since Kurt Warner in 1999 (a 16-season drought). There was little doubt that Cam Newton was the rightful MVP this season, and even if you were to disagree with that, you'd say someone like Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, or Russell Wilson - not Peyton Manning. Yet Manning is the one with the Super Bowl title, showing that we don't have a problem understanding that the best player in any given season doesn't always win the Super Bowl. Why, then, do we have such a hard time understanding that over the course of a career? When reflecting on a player's career, why do we then revert back to the rings argument to suggest that a player is the best in a career when we don't even acknowledge that a ring makes the quarterback the best in a season?
If you're a part of the "Super Bowl rings trumps all" narrative (in other words, Patriots fans), Super Bowl 50 presents some big challenges to that idea that need to be answered for. In Peyton Manning's worst season, he won a championship. He didn't play well in doing it, yet he gets a ring. Clearly, Super Bowl titles are not the best way to judge an individual player, and Sunday's game provided a very notable example of that. Peyton Manning is a champion, and I couldn't be happier for him. But his legacy wasn't at stake on Sunday night, and we saw why as the game went on: rings aren't the best way to judge an individual player.