Now that we've had a week to come down from the momentary high of watching Peyton Manning fail in the postseason yet again, the time has come to put his career into proper context. His comments after the 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts suggested that he was considering retirement and the latest intel indicates that his return is uncertain at best. While the Gary Kubiak hire may be a sign that the Broncos are getting ready to move on, there is also speculation that the move to a West Coast offense, with its emphasis on shorter routes, could help Denver to squeeze one last year out of their 38 year old QB.
As the old saying goes, you don't know what you have until it's gone. If we have indeed seen the last of Peyton Manning (and his humorous faces), then we were lucky enough to bear witness to one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever put on an NFL uniform. His statistics are eye popping, even to the biggest skeptic. Manning owns the all time passing touchdown record and would only need to hang on for one more season in order to surpass Brett Favre's records for pass completions, pass attempts and passing yardage.
He did all of this despite possessing the athleticism of a lamp post and an almost comical lack of movement within the pocket. Teams game planned for Manning knowing that they could wreak havoc with his timing and rhythm, if only they could get actually get the chance to lay a hand on him. Other than Dan Marino and (perhaps) Aaron Rodgers, no quarterback has ever been able to harness the quick release as well as Manning did for nearly 2 decades.
Sure, you could pick apart his playoff history and call him a choker if you'd like. It's no secret that Manning's success was predicated on making sure that the game was going the right way. When the weather conditions weren't ideal or he was consistently pressured, a strong defense could keep him away from his preferred spots on the field.
The reality is that winning Super Bowls requires a great deal of skills and more than just a little bit of luck. Everyone remembers Joe Flacco's miraculous (contract) run through the playoffs that included a come from behind victory over Manning's Broncos. If Rahim Moore simply plays Flacco's desperation heave to Jacoby Jones a little more carefully, it's hard to argue that the Broncos wouldn't have been the odds on favorites to win it all.
Manning suffered bad postseason luck on a number of occasions. In 2010, his Colts were beaten by Mark Sanchez' Jets, thanks to a last second Nick Folk field goal. What no one recalls now is that Manning had coolly driven the Colts to a go ahead field goal with just 53 seconds to go. If the Colts' defense does its job down the stretch, perhaps we remember Manning a bit differently.
The pick six against the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. The complete and total destruction at the hands of an all time great Seattle defense. Manning had his shortcomings, but the role that luck plays in determining how we remember quarterbacks cannot be denied. Just ask Aaron Rodgers.
It's easy to forget how many of us wrote Manning off after his neck injury. There were serious concerns as to whether a quarterback in his late 30s who had just undergone a serious neck fusion procedure could even step up in the pocket and take a hit. If Manning walks away, his three Broncos seasons may not be remember fondly by the "count the rings" crowd. But coming back to play NFL football at the highest level for three additional seasons when you already have a Super Bowl ring and little financial motivation to do so is something that must be applauded.
Should Tom Brady be able to vanquish the Seattle Seahawks and succeed where Manning has failed, this will clinch his vast superiority over Manning for many. However, if any QB is aware of the role luck has played in allowing them to prosper, it's Tom Brady. The Tuck Rule and John Fox's curious coaching for the Panthers (let us not forget he was Manning's coach these past three seasons) allowed Brady to capture 2 of his 3 titles. The Helmet Catch and a slightly errant throw to Wes Welker kept him from winning 2 more.