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Time to trim Manning back to size

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Mike Beacom

msbeacom@yahoo.com
Contributing writer

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Posted Feb. 12, 2010 @ 10:09 a.m. ET
By Mike Beacom

Meet the new Favre, same as the old Favre?

Peyton Manning sure looked the part at the end of Super Bowl XLIV, gifting Tracy Porter with what could be called the biggest interception ever tossed in an NFL game.

Manning's supporters will say what they will about route responsibility, but last I checked, the NFL does not credit interceptions to wide receivers — not for tipped balls or failure to come back to the football. It was a high-risk throw in that situation, regardless of how many times the team has completed that pass, and therefore it is Manning's gaffe to own for life.

Which leads back to Brett Favre ...

Up to now, football historians would probably have put these two legendary passers on opposite ends of the spectrum: Manning as the prototype for what you want in an NFL quarterback, registering maximum scores in each of the categories scouts use to measure a performer. Favre as the gunslinger, the guy who makes middle-aged general managers go gray from all of the poor decisions he makes, most of them producing magic (a few too many ending in disaster).

Favre has become the quarterback fans love to hate. If this were "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," he'd be Lee Van Cleef and Manning would be Clint Eastwood. As for which NFL quarterback gets to play Eli Wallach, who knows?

Talk before the Super Bowl was that a win for Indianapolis would thrust Manning ahead of all others on the list of all-time great quarterbacks. But that talk was only capitalizing on the moment, not with any real merit attached. Up to that point in his career, Manning had obviously been special, but he simply did not yet belong in the discussion.

Now he may never belong.

I realize these comments are somewhat controversial; criticizing Peyton Manning is much like criticizing the work of Mother Teresa. After all, Manning is the perfect sports hero — he says the right things, he makes wise decisions on the field, he has the right pedigree, he's intelligent and has a sense of humor ... so pure that I suspect one day folks might add him to the phrase "as American as apple pie and Peyton Manning."

But therein lies the problem. The football public has been trained to believe Manning can do no wrong.  Dare I say he's overrated? Can it be possible for someone of Manning's stature to be such? Sure, like an inflated stock, he was bound to fall back to earth (and fell hard he did last Sunday). It's not to say Manning isn't one of the best ever to play the position, he's just not as good as many make him out to be.

If one were to find his natural pair in the annals of pro football, it would unquestionably be Favre — you know, the anti-Peyton Manning, the guy who says what's on his mind even though often unpopular and who on occasion makes poor decisions on the field.

Some interesting comparisons:

  • Both are natives of the South, Manning from Louisiana, Favre from Mississippi.
  • Both have a knack for staying on the field, ranking Nos. 1 (Favre) and 2 on the all-time consecutive-starts list among quarterbacks.
  • At present, both are judged mostly by numbers, not titles. Favre owns every record, and most believe Manning will pass him in every category one day.
  • Both are 1-1 in Super Bowl appearances.
  • And, to the shock of Manning supporters everywhere, both can be called chokers in pressure situations. Favre has made three memorable mistakes (in a 2003-04 divisional playoff game against Philadelphia, against the New York Giants in the 2007-08 NFC title game, and against New Orleans in this year's NFC title game). In each instance, Favre was marvelous up to that fateful throw. And, in each instance, Favre's team was probably more responsible for the loss. But the losses were hung on Favre, and a man once credited for his ability to deliver in pressure situations has been transformed into the league's all-time biggest choker when the season is on the line. Manning is not far behind. In addition to his interception in this year's Super Bowl, historians must consider that six times Manning has failed to guide his team past its first game in the playoffs (as compared to three times for Favre, just once for Tom Brady).

To look at the list of all-time great quarterbacks, fans must take two things into consideration more than anything else: titles and statistics. No one debates this. But winners tend to be favored more as time passes, evident by how we remember Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas — both big-game performers, neither among the top five all-time in any of the major passing categories. The Favres and Marinos of the world — the numbers guys — are asked to take a seat in the second row.

Manning cannot be called a winning quarterback, either, only a prolific one. Yep, he has a title, just the same as Favre, but he doesn't have three like Brady or even two like Ben Roethlisberger. And his winning percentage in the playoffs (.500) is nothing to make even Terry Bradshaw or Bart Starr sweat.

So why do fans insist on giving him a free pass to the front of the line? There seems to be this want for Manning to be the end-all-be-all quarterback for the ages — a desire to make him more than what he really is, as special as it may be.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that desire will be met by satisfaction — not after the Colts' loss to New Orleans, not when one considers what lies ahead for an aging Indianapolis squad. Manning may very well never get to another Super Bowl. He in all likelihood will never match Brady's Super Bowl rings, and there is a chance he will not catch up to Favre in passing yards or touchdown passes.

Nope, because of his blunder, Manning now has cemented his place as a second-row quarterback — a numbers guy who is more loser than winner when it comes to January football. Yes, he's still the NFL's biggest darling, and the guy every general manager would love to have under center and talking to the press. But unless the rules change for how we judge our quarterbacks, Manning's opportunity to rest his mug next to Montana, Unitas and Otto Graham on the Mount Rushmore of signalcallers was washed away on that 74-yard pick-six last Sunday.

Now he belongs with Favre, as a winner and a warrior, and a playoff stumbler.

 

PFW has launched its brand-new NFL Draft Newsletter series, with the third issue focusing on underclassmen and how they've panned out over the years to be published next week. Produced by PFW's player personnel department under the direction of Nolan Nawrocki, the series consists of four information-packed issues. For more info or to subscribe — click here for PDF e-pub or here for print format. You can also find details about other draft-related publications in the PFW store.

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