Now that the dust has settled on Super Bowl 50, let's talk about Peyton Manning.
More specifically, let's talk about his legacy. Manning didn't feel like discussing it following the Broncos' win on Sunday – and with all that Budweiser to drink, who can blame him? But if we've really witnessed the final game of his remarkable career, then perhaps the moment is right to debate whether he's the best QB of all-time. You are entitled to your opinion. But here's mine. If you put Manning atop your list, you were obviously freebasing a little too much guacamole on Super Sunday.
Yes, Manning is an all-time great. He's one of the best to ever play the position. One of.
He's got two rings, he's the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, fourth-quarter comebacks and he's thrown more touchdowns than anyone else in the history of the game. He's posted some of the most prolific offensive seasons ever – in 2013, at the age of 37, he set single-season marks for passing yards and touchdowns en route to his fifth MVP award – and his cerebral approach to the game redefined what a quarterback could do when he stepped to the line of scrimmage. The guy is a wise warhorse who also happens to walk on water. No one's denying that.
But when it comes down to it, if you're picking one QB to win one game with everything on the line, it's not going to be Manning. It never was, not in his prime, and even after riding on the coattails of a monstrous defense to win Super Bowl 50, Manning is still not the guy you want under center with everything on the line.
Stats are nice, but here's the thing: to be known as the greatest QB ever, you have to do it in the regular season, you have to do it in the playoffs and you have to be able to do it when the stakes are at their highest. Manning is not the guy. Never was.
When he was in his prime, during the rollicking Indianapolis years, Manning won a Super Bowl. But he also owned a 9-10 record in the playoffs. With Manning under center, the Colts were annually one of the most dominant September and October teams in the NFL, but their win totals faded in November and December. Remember when the knock on Manning was that he couldn't win in the cold weather?
Overall, Manning is 14-13 in postseason play (though it took the Broncos' Super Bowl 50 win to get him above .500), and despite his regular-season brilliance, the playoffs factors heavily into the equation. Just ask Dan Marino, who, as you were reminded in the Amazon commercial during the Super Bowl, has never won a championship.
Yes, Manning has now won two titles and he'll eternally pop up in those barstool debates of the best there ever was, along with the likes of Tom Brady, Marino, John Elway, and the rest of them. They're all worthy of being mentioned, but Manning just doesn't stack up to what Brady's done over the course of his still-dominant career.
One game, with everything on the line? Brady is 22-9 in the playoffs and led the Patriots to four championships. You could also make an argument that Brady would have an even gaudier playoff record and regular-season numbers if he had some of the offensive weapons Manning had in his career.
Not a Brady man? I get it – those cheating accusations can be deflating. But Joe Montana was 16-7 in the playoffs and won four Super Bowls. Terry Bradshaw was 14-5 with four titles. Elway went 14-7 the postseason and won two Super Bowls. Manning is the next guy on that list. Playoff performance isn't everything, but it's a big part of the puzzle. As good as Manning has been, the way he played in big games chips away at his legend.
Trent Dilfer is the poster boy for a mediocre quarterback winning a Super Bowl. Dilfer won with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, a team that did it with defense. Dilfer's passer rating in that game was 80.9. Manning's rating in Super Bowl 50 was 56.6. When he won his first title at Super Bowl XLI, Manning's passer rating was a hair better than Dilfer's at 81.8.
In comparison, Brady's passer rating was north of 100 in three of his four Super Bowl wins.
It remains to be seen if Super Bowl 50 was Manning's last game. If it was, he goes out on top and the Sheriff rides off into the sunset in an ending fit for a Hollywood movie. But history tells us that guys like Manning typically play a few more years than they should. There were rumblings even before Super Sunday that the L.A. Rams want Manning to play for them. If he does, they'll wind up getting the second best quarterback that played for the Broncos this season – remember, Brock Osweiler threw more touchdowns (and fewer interceptions) than Manning this year.
To be the greatest quarterback of all time, you need to tick all the boxes, including putting up extraordinary stats, earning the respect of teammates and striking fear into opponents. And winning championships. Manning has done all that, but the boxes that remain blank on his spectacular resume are the most important: his ability to win the biggest games, against the greatest odds, on the biggest stage. He falls short there. Whereas Brady, no matter what you think of him, is just a year younger than Manning, continues to dominate, continues to win those big games and continues to be the guy I'd draft to win just one game for all the marbles.
If that game is in September, during the regular-season, then maybe Manning is your guy. But in the winter months, with all the chips on the table, Brady is the man. That's not an opinion as much as it's historical fact. And that's the indelible line that separates a great quarterback from the greatest.