The Peyton Paradox: Manning would be both the worst and best QB to win a Super Bowl
Only 11 men have quarterbacked a team to two or more Super Bowl championships. With names including Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady, it is among the most prestigious clubs in American sport.
can join that elite class on 7 February in Super Bowl 50, adding the one accomplishment that has been missing from his sensational career resume. A win would also put Manning into an even more exclusive club. One that includes the names Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams and Jim McMahon. Yes, with a win over the Panthers, the 2016 edition of Manning can stake his place among the worst quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl. In fact, if the Broncos can upset the Panthers, their quarterback will deserve to stand alone as the worst quarterback to ever lift the Lombardi Trophy.
No disrespect intended.
The quarterback who compiled so many eye-popping numbers over the past three decades is not the same one we’ve seen in the last 14 months. The quarterback who was once so talented and dominant that anything short of a Super Bowl title meant he fell short of expectations is now exceeding expectations just by keeping a starting job. The only similarity between the Peyton Manning playing today and vintage Peyton is that they both struggle to throw spirals. Well, that and the Manning Faces are just as strong as ever.
will pit the NFL’s new superstar in Cam Newton, a 26-year old with a rocket arm who can leap over defenders in a single bound, against Manning, a 39-year old with four neck surgeries who can barely throw the ball past the defensive line. On paper, and all other mediums of communication, it’s not a fair matchup. But they both stand just 60 minutes from a championship.
It can’t be argued that a second ring would give Manning, the all-time NFL leader in passing yards and touchdowns, a strong case for being the greatest quarterback of all-time. And however illogical it may seem, it also couldn’t be argued that a ring would give Manning – 2015-2016 Manning, that is, who was ranked 34th and dead-last in passer rating this season in the – a legit case for being the worst Super Bowl-winning quarterback of all-time. The greatest and the worst. There is nothing more fitting in the social media age when it seems everything has to be one or the other. Peyton Manning could truly be both at the same time.
The most recent “worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl” – assuming you believe Joe Flacco and Eli Manning both land at least somewhere on the vast and ever-changing “elite” spectrum – is Brad Johnson. In fifteen NFL seasons for four different teams, he only started more than eight games in a season seven times. He was an average quarterback on a lot of average teams.
Except in 2002. That year, at age 34 in the twilight of his career – but five years younger than Manning is now, Johnson was Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback. He had a career year, throwing 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions with a 92.9 quarterback rating, the third-best in the league. Not 34th-best. Third-best. Those Super Bowl champion Buccaneers were built on the defense that Tony Dungy left behind for Jon Gruden, just as Manning’s Broncos will win or lose on the defense John Fox left for Gary Kubiak. But Johnson had far more to do with his team’s success than Manning does now. It’s not a question of whether Brad Johnson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame along with Manning one day. He doesn’t. Johnson had one good season in a career of mediocrity. Manning has had this awful season after a near-eternity of excellence. But saying today’s Manning is better than 2002 Brad Johnson is no less insane than saying Cooper is the best football Manning.
But Trent Dilfer, though, right? Surely 2016 Manning is still better than the all-time standard for worst Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, yes?
Well, it depends on how much faith you put in numbers. The Trent Dilfer of 2000, in an era when passing stats had yet to hit their current day video game heights, had a higher passer rating than Manning’s from this year by nine points. He also threw more touchdowns than interceptions, while Manning had 17 interceptions to just nine TDs this year. Forget Dilfer, Manning’s numbers this year are even inferior to what Tony Banks, the guy who got benched for Dilfer, put up in the 2000 season. Tony Banks! And Manning has done all this – or not done it, in this case – with star wideouts in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Super Bowl Ravens had Qadry Ismail and Travis Taylor as their top wide receivers.
If you had to win just one game and could only choose between 2000 Trent Dilfer and today’s Peyton Manning, would you pick Dilfer? Eh. That would take some guts. But on just pure numbers, that Dilfer was better than this Manning. If the Broncos can knock off the Panthers, 2016 Manning deserves to at least share Dilfer’s “worst QB” crown, meaning Dilfer could instead be remembered not as the hands-down worst quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but as the guy who declared in September 2014 that . Congrats, Trent!
A recent Super Bowl quarterback equivalent to what Manning has done this year is none other than Rex Grossman, the football punchline who quarterbacked the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, where Manning got his lone Super Bowl win with the Colts. Grossman had a better passing rating and touchdown to interception ratio in 2006 while Manning trumps him in QBR and completion percentage. We’ll call it a draw. Peyton Manning has lasted long enough in the NFL that he’s become as good as Rex Grossman.
No disrespect intended. Really.
Manning deserves a lot of credit for making it this far with his diminished abilities. He may not get a ring, but he deserves credit. At his peak, he played like winning was all on his shoulders, an individual intent on single-handedly winning a team sport. And maybe the weight of that led to his many postseason collapses. But since getting the starting job back from Brock Osweiler, Manning seems to have fully realized the limitations of his body at this stage in his career. He knows the Broncos will bench him if he hurts their chances of winning. And so while he didn’t light it up against the Steelers in the divisional round or the Patriots in the AFC title game, he made plays when they were there and, most importantly, didn’t lose the game for his defense.
Maybe if the new mindset of this “worst ever” Peyton Manning had shown up during the “greatest ever” era of his career, Manning would already be in that prestigious two rings club. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that Dilfer and Johnson better make room on the old couch in the shabbily-appointed worst ever club. The NFL’s all-time leading passer could be joining them soon, and what an accomplishment it would be.