Manning off to great start, but will it last?
Yes, I know that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 462 yards and an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes last Thursday against Baltimore.
And yes, I know that the Broncos looked very impressive in dealing the defending Super Bowl champs a 49-27 loss in the Mile High city.
I also realize that this week’s column may make me the most unpopular person in Colorado, and quite possibly the entire Rocky Mountain region.
And while I don’t believe it’s my duty to sway readers one way or the other, I do feel a responsibility to point out certain facts. So forgive me if I’m about to burst your bubble.
I am a numbers guy. I believe that statistics are very telling. You can choose to accept them as fact, or lessen their importance.
It’s been 15 seasons since the Broncos won a Super Bowl; or even played in one. During that stretch the team has won just two playoff games. The winning quarterbacks were Jake Plummer and Tim Tebow. Both men were run out of town within a year after leading their teams to victory.
Manning joined the Broncos last year as club president John Elway’s hand-picked replacement of Tebow. I believe Elway himself escorted Tebow to the train station and purchased his one-way ticket to New York.
As great as Manning has been in the regular season (155 wins and just 70 losses), he has been less-than average in the postseason (9-11). That includes eight first-round losses. He is 2-5 in the playoffs since his Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.
I realize that Manning does not deserve all of the blame for his team’s poor playoff showings, but he is the guy under center and he is considered one of the greatest ever at his position. Four regular-season MVP awards back up his case.
And while there are a whole slew of fans and writers who are more than happy to blame last year’s 38-35 first-round playoff loss to Baltimore on Rahim Moore’s inability to cover Jacoby Jones on a fly pattern late in the game, much of the blame for that loss has to be put on Manning.
The Broncos’ offense was held in check as Manning completed 28 of 43 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions The main reason Denver was in position to win was because of two special teams touchdowns (a kickoff return and a punt return) by Trindon Holliday.
Manning, I concede, is arguably the best regular season quarterback in history. He probably is one of the nicest men to ever play the game. And he certainly appears to be a fantastic role model. Remember, I am just presenting facts here.
Manning is successful on the field because he is blessed with incredible quarterback skills and he is smarter than the opposition most of the time. His helter-skelter pants-on-fire style of play works very well during the regular season. That’s because teams usually have less than a week to game-plan for him, and most teams are not interested or willing to change everything they do just to stop Manning.
That scenario changes in the playoffs. Opponents usually come up with successful game plans because there is no tomorrow. He is generally not as successful when he changes plays at the line because defenses sniff it out. Plus, the pressure of a playoff game is immense.
Doug Williams was not a great quarterback, but he was good enough to lead the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory over the Broncos in January 1988. Likewise, Brad Johnson was hardly considered an elite quarterback, but he was behind center when Tampa Bay crushed the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. And I don’t think anybody would ever mistake Trent Dilfer for Joe Montana, but Dilfer was Baltimore’s quarterback when the Ravens defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Tebow, while his play behind center might have been tough to stomach most of the time, found a way to win. The Broncos were 7-4 with him as the starter in 2011. In the Broncos’ playoff victory over Pittsburgh that season he completed 10 of 21 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
If you recall, Tebow threw just one pass in overtime - an 80-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas for the victory.
Here are some more facts. The teams that have won or played in Super Bowls since the Broncos’ last invitation to the dance include St. Louis (twice), Tampa Bay, Seattle, Chicago and Arizona. Not exactly elite organizations by today’s standards.
I am fully aware that the Broncos were one of the elite NFL teams from 1977 through 1998. During that span they played in six Super Bowls, made the playoffs in 13 different seasons and compiled an impressive 14-13 postseason record.
The NFL loves the Broncos. No fewer than six Broncos games are in prime time this season. The NFL schedule makers love that whole Rocky Mountain High thing with the snow and the elevation and Manning and Elway. It’s a great combination that exists in no other market.
If last week is any indication, the Broncos will run the table this year and go 19-0. Next February we will all be in downtown Denver high-fiving and hugging each other.
But I think Denver will finish 9-7 or 10-6 in the regular season. The rest of the AFC West (Oakland, San Diego and Kansas City) will be improved, so I think it is highly unlikely the Broncos go undefeated (6-0) in the division again.
The Broncos also have games against five other playoff teams from a year ago; Giants (this Sunday), Indianapolis, Washington, New England and Houston.
The New England game (in Massachusetts) on Nov. 24 is sandwiched between two highly emotional Chiefs games. The Houston game (in Texas) is the second-to-last regular season game and falls between San Diego and Oakland.
I also don’t think that Manning will have many more games like he did against Baltimore.
It statistically is impossible. Last year, at the age of 36, he enjoyed an incredible season in which he threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdown passes.
I hope the Broncos and Manning do well this season. I wouldn’t mind watching them in the Super Bowl next February. But statistically speaking, the odds are not in their favor.