Peyton Manning, as Colts fans know better than anyone, is renowned for two qualities:
Otherworldy regular seasons.
That’s his legacy.
Sure, there have been notable postseason exceptions. Well, only one, really.
That was in 2007, when the Colts won the Super Bowl.
Other than that, Manning’s playoff past is, to put it charitably, checkered. To put it accurately, it’s embarrassing.
On so many levels the greatest
quarterback of all time, Manning just doesn’t get it done in the postseason. He’s been to the playoffs 14 times in his 17-year career. Yet all he has to show for it is one championship, two runners-up, eight one-and-dones and an 11-12 record.
For perspective, the Patriots’ Tom Brady is 18-8 in playoff games. And he has three rings.
But numbers tell only part of Manning’s sad playoff story. The real tragedy (with regard to legacy) is that two of his greatest humiliations have occurred on the greatest stage.
Colts fans will never forget the pick-six that sealed Indy’s 2010 Super Bowl fate against New Orleans. Broncos fans will never forget the botched opening snap that embodied Denver’s 43-8 Super Bowl smackdown last season against Seattle.
And so it is with Manning: Uber spectacular in the regular season, shockingly ineffective when wins matter most.
Which brings us to Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Colts.
If the opponent were any soft AFC South champion other than the Colts, with any quarterback other than Andrew Luck, this wouldn’t be a pressure-packed moment for Manning.
But it is.
Fair or not, this isn’t the Colts vs. the Broncos. It’s Luck vs. Manning. Regardless how anyone tries to spin it, that’s the story line. Luck knows it. And, more importantly, Manning knows it.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s where Indy has an edge.
Make no mistake, the Broncos are — player for player — by far the better team. They’re playing at home. They beat Indy on that same field in the season-opener. There is no reason to suggest, let alone believe, that the Colts are in any way favored. They’re not.
But they aren’t without a resource or two — Luck, of course, being the primary.
Unlike Manning, Luck has an an uncanny way of delivering in the moment, not wilting in it. No matter the opponent, no matter the hype, no matter how many times he’s sacked, knocked down, intercepted or stripped of the ball, he never, ever falls apart.
He does the opposite.
Impervious to broken plays, hard knocks and breakdowns, Luck regroups, inspires and, with his arm and legs, makes plays. And that’s it. That’s the story and fledgling legacy of Andrew Luck. The Colts won’t win every game. But they won’t lose many, if any, because of their quarterback.
Manning’s story is somewhat different.
An all-time great by any measure, with or without a trove of Lombardi Trophies, Manning doesn’t so much lose big games as fail to win them. That’s the knock on him. The magic that so often dazzles in the regular season simply vanishes in the playoffs. When things fall apart, he does, too.
That’s why the Colts have a chance, albeit a slim one, to reach the AFC Championship Game. It all hinges on Manning. Luck won’t fade, but Manning might.
If there ever were a good time for a Manning flop, now would be the time.