NFL

Last Chance For Peyton Manning’s Legacy

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Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will likely be starting the final playoff run of his illustrious career on Sunday when his team takes on the injury ravaged Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’d be lying to say I’ve never thought it,” Manning said of this potentially being his last chance to win a title. “I know people would say, ‘I’ve never thought about that,’ and that’s probably not the case. But I am excited to be thinking about who we’re going to play this weekend, and to have the opportunity to help, to contribute in some way.”

It’s somewhat of a surprise that Manning even received this opportunity after his epic meltdown against Kansas City a few months ago which caused him to spend the stretch run of the regular season on the bench.  With the No. 1 seed on the line in the season finale against the San Diego (soon to be L.A.) Chargers, Manning replaced a struggling Brock Osweiler thus clearing the way for Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak to start the future Hall of Famer for the postseason.

“We were flat-lining a bit offensively at that point in the game,” Osweiler said. “Coach felt like that was the best way to generate a spark, and it did. It helped the football team win the game.”

“I just do what I think is best for our football team,” Kubiak said of his decision to start Manning for the playoff game against Pittsburgh. “I feel really good about this, about how far Peyton has come.”

By starting Manning, Kubiak is taking the safe, explainable route.  If you lose with the guy who holds most every NFL passing record, it’s okay, you gave it your best shot with your legend.  If you start Osweiler and lose the game with Manning on the bench, that’s potentially a fireable offense, even if your boss is your friend.

As for Manning’s legacy, a loss will be understood.  It’s clear that his skills are greatly diminished and after his first half of the season performance, few are expecting a lengthy playoff run culminating in a Super Bowl.

If he somehow can catch lightning in a bottle, even if it means handing the ball to C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman and watching the NFL’s best defense suffocate opponents, Manning’s legacy will receive a huge shot in the arm.

On most days of Manning’s career, it looked like there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do (outside of run) at the quarterback position.  He called his own plays, manipulated defenses and simply made playing the position look easy.

That was until January rolled around.

Manning’s playoff struggles can not be overlooked when talking about the pantheon of all-time greats at the position.  He has an 11-13 record and it would be crazy to say that all 13 postseason losses were solely his fault.  It would be equally as insane to say that the 11 victories were due to his great play as well.

In his lone title run of 2006, Manning defeated Trent Green at the twilight of his career, Steve McNair at the end of his, the worst playoff team Tom Brady ever took the field with led by Reche Caldwell at wide receiver and finally Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl.  You can only beat who’s in front of you, lest nobody believe that was any kind of “Murderer’s Row.”

In that playoff run, Manning threw three touchdowns with seven interceptions and his highest single game quarterback rating was 81.8.

Still, that run to the Lombardi has saved Manning from being remembered as one of the greatest wasted talents of all time.

There is virtually nobody in America (outside of the New England area) that dislikes the 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback.  He comes across as likable in his numerous television commercials, and it’s not an act.  While covering the Pro Bowl in 2009, this reporter witnessed Manning thank, shake the hand and talk to every single locker room attendant and tape guy in Aloha Stadium.  There were no TV cameras around and it was something he didn’t have to do.  It was only a few minutes out of Manning’s life, but it gave all of those guys a story to tell their grandkids.

Manning’s likability saves him from a lot of warranted criticism about his play in big games.  It has even saved him from the scrutiny of an HGH report that involved him.

There’s very little outside of winning Powerball that the national media and casual NFL fans alike would love more than a Super Bowl run by Manning and the Broncos.  If he can direct the team to Santa Clara, even if it’s by not making mistakes and simply staying out of the way, his legacy will take a giant leap forward and it will be a perfect time to call it a career.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.