Manning’s Legacy in Question?

Scott Blumenfeld

We all knew what was going to happen. Peyton Manning would get the ball back in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter and would promptly orchestrate a game-tying touchdown drive to send Super Bowl XLIV into overtime. For a few minutes, it seemed as if this would come true, until 23-year-old Saints cornerback Tracy Porter stepped in front of Reggie Wayne, picked off Manning, and raced 74 yards into the end zone. Instead of another fourth quarter comeback for Manning to go with his seven during the regular season, the interception suddenly sealed the Saints’ first Super Bowl victory. Porter’s interception, however, altered more than just the course of the game. By now, we are aware of what that interception and the ensuing Super Bowl victory meant to the city of New Orleans, but what about the impact of that interception on Peyton Manning’s career?

At 33 years old, Peyton Manning’s legacy is suddenly unclear. In the 2006-2007 season, Manning finally got the monkey off his back by winning his first Super Bowl and shedding the image of a great regular season quarterback who could not win in the post-season. On Sunday, he had the chance to move into an elite group of quarterbacks who have won multiple Super Bowls. A second Super Bowl victory to go with his NFL-record four MVPs would have done a great deal to strengthen his candidacy for the title of the greatest quarterback of all time. Instead, Manning will, for the time being, continue to be recognized more for his regular season performance than his postseason play. Great players are defined by how they perform in the postseason and Manning’s numbers in the playoffs scream mediocrity, especially when compared to his rival, Tom Brady. It is unfair to classify Manning as a choke artist, but a .500 winning percentage in the playoffs doesn’t make a great case for someone who is trying to become the greatest quarterback of all time. His career postseason passer rating was 87.4 prior to Super Bowl XLIV, compared to his career regular season passer rating of 95.0. A victory over the Saints would have cemented his position as the best quarterback of all time, and he will now have to wait for another shot at a title.

But while critics and analysts will spend the next several weeks debating how this game affected Manning’s legacy, it is important to remember that Peyton’s career is far from over. Assuming that he wants to continue playing, there is no reason to think that he cannot play until he is 40. As the game’s most cerebral quarterback, Manning’s quarterback IQ will only get better with age, even though his physical tools might begin to fade. He plays behind an offensive line that allowed just 10 sacks during the regular season. In fact, only once since 2003 has Manning been sacked more than 20 times in a season. His great offensive line, along with his ability to get rid of the ball quickly, makes it all the more likely that he will be able to stay healthy as his career progresses. With a contract extension on the horizon, Manning will be a Colt for life. He should have the opportunity to play at least 5-7 more seasons, and because he loves the game so much, there seems to be no reason why he would not do so.

The Colts could make another Super Bowl appearance as soon as next season. They are my early favorite to take home the Lombardi Trophy next year, especially if they can improve their running game. Their young group of receivers will be bolstered by the return of Anthony Gonzalez, who was supposed to be Manning’s second receiver before he went down with a knee injury in Indianapolis’s season opener. The Colts’ secondary, which was riddled with injuries throughout the season, will be deeper and more talented with the return of safety Bob Sanders and cornerback Kelvin Hayden. The likelihood of an uncapped 2010 season makes it possible for the Colts to re-sign their own free agents and bring in new players to make improvements to the league’s worst rushing offense and 24th-ranked rush defense. With Manning at the helm, expect the Colts to be a viable Super Bowl contender next season and for many seasons to come.

Contact Scott Blumenfeld at [email protected].