Monday, November 06, 2006

King For a Day

The Colts beat the Patriots in Foxborough (or wherever the hell they play these days) to remain unbeaten. And Peyton Manning scored a victory over his personal rival (Tom Brady) for label as the "best QB in the NFL". Manning has played Wilt chamberlain to Brady's Bill Russell for the past five years. Manning has the stats, but Brady has the championships. With the victory last night though, for today Manning is the best QB in the league. He has worn that label for a few years now, however there is always a big "but" when it comes to Manning. The "but" with Manning is that his teams have failed to advance to the Superbowl. It is true that in football especially, one player cannot singlehandedly take a team to a championship, but that hasn't stopped the criticism from coming Manning's way.

The Colts started last season with 13 consecutive wins. There were threatening to complete the first undefeated season since the '73 Dolphins. The coaching staff decided that going into the playoffs rested and healthy was more important than finishing the season undefeated. They took their foot off the gas pedal and the Colts did not finish undefeated and went on to lose to the eventual champion, the Steelers. The Colts seemed poised to win the Superbowl last year but they didn't and the finger of blame for the failure to do so, was pointed squarely at Peyton Manning. The feeling is that he is in danger of being labeled as this generations Dan Marino. He has put up record breaking numbers and is on pace to own every record in the book, but has yet to lead his team to a championship. In his second season, Marino did get a team to the Superbowl but they were crushed by the San Francisco 49ers. During that season Marino set the record for TD passes (since broken by Manning) and yards (which he still holds), but the Dolphins were simply beaten by the better team that day. Marino was never able to get the Dolphins back to the big game after that season. The team never had a solid running game (he only one 1,000 yard rusher for the rest of his career) and relied on Marino's arm to win every game. The fact that he was as successful as he was (second only to Elway in wins as a starting QB) is a testament to his abilities. However, Marino is defined not only by his phenomenal passing numbers, but also by his inability to win a Superbowl. Manning has had a good running attack for the majority of his career. He has also had a future hall of famer in Marvin Harrison to throw to. The Colts weakness has always been their defense. It hasn't been horrible, but they have never had the kind of dominating defense that can shut down an opponent in the playoffs. The truth is also that Manning has also seemed to come up small in some very big games.

Tom Brady has never put up the kind of stats that Manning has. He has very good numbers but certainly not the kind of individual stats that would place among the all time greats. However he does have something that Peyton Manning would kill for, three Superbowl victories. He has been the MVP of two of those victories and he has the reputation of being this generations Joe Montana. However, Montana had a group of hall of famers as teammates, which Brady does not. I can't think of one player on the Patriots team, with the exception of Brady, who is a sure-fire hall of famer. Montana had a "genius" head coach in Bill Walsh as Brady does in Bill Belichick. The credit for the Patriots success seems to be credited more to the coaches brain that it does the QB's arm. I'm not sure why that is. During the glory days in San Francisco, Montana and Walsh shared credit equally. Perhaps Brady isn't as flashy as Joe Montana was or perhaps he is just more low key and willing to share the credit more, but while he has gotten a few individual accolades, the credit seems more centered around the team and the coach than the player. I'm sure Brady doesn't mind at all as long as the team keeps winning. In fact the balanced attack and excellent defensive schemes in the playoffs are the reasons that the Patriots have won as much as they have. In my opinion, the underlying belief is that Brady isn't the kind of QB who can carry a team on his back (although he has never had the need to). Unlike say a Brett Favre, who has gotten much more individual attention, while leading his team to only one championship.

Manning is on the top of the heap of current NFL QB's. His regular season numbers are staggering. He is on pace to finish his career with 500 TD's and 60,000 yards. His greatness is unquestioned. What is questioned is his leadership ability. Manning will end up in the Hall of fame, and he is the unquestioned leader of the Colts. However, his legacy is undoubtedly going to end up being defined by how far he can take this team in the playoffs. Perhaps he will be like John Elway, who was labeled as "unable to win the big one", until Denver got a running game and he ended his career with two straight Superbowl victories. Seemingly overnight, Elway went from a choker to the ultimate winner. In the public's mind, all his past failures were forgotten. The same can happen to Peyton Manning. He has the talent and the team to make that happen. Until he does though, the best QB in the league label that he carries will continue to come with a big "but".



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