Analysis  

 

Peyton Manning must win second Super Bowl to cement legacy

Stop what you are doing. Listen closely. Do you hear that creaking sound?

That's the window closing on Peyton Manning's bid to win that ultra-important second Super Bowl.

He's an all-time great, a legendary quarterback. On a personal note, he is my favorite quarterback to watch. I want him as my quarterback. The intensity, the arm strength and the pure skill are remarkable. His numbers are superb. He is literally responsible for a new stadium being built in Indianapolis, and for the city hosting a Super Bowl.

But he doesn't have the jewelry, the multiple championships, to match his greatness. And Manning, the ultimate student of the game, knows how quarterbacks are judged.

Yes, the Denver Broncos' loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season was another playoff defeat in which Manning, seen as a heavy favorite, was bested by a team thought to be inferior.

I got to thinking about Manning, the 2013 Broncos and Manning's legacy while sipping my coffee and perusing Peter King's latest "Monday Morning Quarterback" column on SI.com. Tom Brady told King, "I've never felt better throwing the football," before going into great detail as to why that's the case.

Here's the thing about those comments: When you read them, you believe them. Yes, like Manning, Brady and Bill Belichick lost to the Ravens at home during last season's playoffs. But those two have a history of postseason success. Manning does not.

Manning is an all-time great, but his playoff stats -- and career record of 9-11 -- are sub-par. Brady, meanwhile, is a robust 17-7.

Let's take this a step further.

Eli Manning is not the player his older brother is during the regular season, but he has a superior playoff résumé with the New York Giants. So I'll go ahead and say something I've said before: Eli -- a future Hall of Famer, thanks to his knack for the moment -- is better in the clutch than Peyton. Eli is 8-3 as a playoff quarterback, with two Super Bowl wins against the team that has long served as Peyton's kryptonite, the Belichick-coached Patriots. And Eli has twice ended spectacular seasons by the Green Bay Packers, first stopping Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers with amazing playoff wins.

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Ultimately, it comes down to this: Does Peyton Manning need that second Super Bowl title to be considered in the same class as Brady, Joe Montana and John Elway?

One defensive player I asked said, "He's the toughest ever to defend. Simple as that. What else does he need?" However, a respected general manager countered, "He's great. He's Peyton. But his attempts to do too much hurt him when it matters. That's why Tom (Brady) is better, always has been. He's Peyton Manning, but he's had some ordinary moments in January."

Rahim Moore wore the goat horns after last year's loss to the Ravens -- Manning can't, after all, play safety. But who should be held responsible for the game management and play calling in that defeat, for Denver failing to go for the jugular when it had the chance? Coach John Fox? Former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy? Or Manning? Or are we only allowed to point to Manning -- crediting his play-calling genius as a pseudo-offensive coordinator -- when it works?

Last year was shaping up to be a magical season for Manning and the Broncos. Their mid-October comeback against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football, after they'd fallen behind by 24 points, was epic. I wrote on NFL.com that the Broncos won the AFC West that night, predicting that they wouldn't lose the rest of the season, and sure enough, I was right. Denver was perfect. Manning was dreamy. The nation was on the Broncos' Super Bowl bandwagon.

And yet, it wasn't enough.

This year, the road should be even tougher for Manning's Broncos.

Don't misinterpret what I'm saying. The Broncos are still AFC West favorites, especially after pilfering Brady's go-to-guy in Wes Welker. But thanks to a fax-machine mishap, they lost defensive stalwart Elvis Dumervil. I loved the drafting of Montee Ball, but the rookie running back still has to prove himself. Meanwhile, I've documented how the Chargers (who responded perfectly to linebacker Melvin Ingram's torn anterior cruciate ligament by signing Dwight Freeney to replace him) and Kansas City Chiefs absolutely will be much better this season. And Denver, which opens the 2013 season by hosting the Ravens and visiting the Giants, could start with an 0-2 record.

Outside the division, I think the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Houston Texans are all better than Denver on paper.

I'm not trolling. I'm a big Manning backer in the made-for-sports-talk-radio argument about quarterbacks. But a sub-.500 record in the playoffs and another failed Super Bowl run hurt. Manning's place as a regular-season legend is secure, but his place as an all-time winner is not. He needs to earn another ring. Last year might have been the best time to make it happen.

If Manning ends the 2013 season without another title, there's a chance he won't get another crack.

That window might shut forever.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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