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Manning on cusp of best year ever
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.Sorry, Brett. I’ve gotta say no, Joe. And go home to Gisele, Tom.
They are among the greatest signal-callers in NFL history. But if Indianapolis defeats New Orleans on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium, even some of the best like Brett Favre, Joe Montana and Tom Brady can’t stake claim to this:
The greatest season ever completed by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Hyperbole? Hardly. Statistics, team success and intangibles prove my point.
Peyton Manning has already eclipsed Favre and Johnny Unitas by winning an unprecedented fourth NFL Most Valuable Player trophy during the 2009 regular season. Indianapolis finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record and would have vied for a perfect season had first-year coach Jim Caldwell not rested starters in the final two games for the playoffs. Manning ranked second in the NFL in three major categories: passing yards (4,500), touchdowns (33) and completion percentage (68.8).
But here’s the most telling stat: Manning led the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV despite his team's fielding the NFL’s 32nd-ranked rushing offense.
Mull that over. The Colts were the NFL’s most one-dimensional offense, and opponents still couldn’t stop it. Indianapolis ranked seventh in scoring (26 points a game) and ninth in total offense despite averaging just 80.9 rushing yards.
None of Manning’s predecessors have won a Lombardi Trophy with such little ground support. Manning’s 4,500 passing yards would also be the highest total for any Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Manning would break his own record of 4,397 yards set in 2006. It should be noted, though, that those Colts averaged 110.1 rushing yards during the regular season. And while Manning was named the Super Bowl XLI MVP, Indianapolis rode the 190-yard combined rushing effort of Dominic Rhodes and Joe Addai in a 29-17 victory over Chicago.
Ranking behind Manning on the list is Kurt Warner, who threw for 4,353 yards with St. Louis in 1999. But while Warner guided the Greatest Show on Turf to Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams’ running game was a much better supporting act than what Manning had in 2009. Led by Marshall Faulk, St. Louis had a No. 5 NFL ranking and 128.7-yard average.
Terry Bradshaw had Franco Harris. Roger Staubach had Tony Dorsett. Troy Aikman had Emmitt Smith.
Those are just three examples of outstanding quarterbacks who enjoyed the services of an equally impressive rusher. All six of those players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Warner and Faulk will someday be joining them. This leads to another supporting argument for Manning.
He isn’t surrounded by Hall of Fame talent.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and center Jeff Saturday have a shot at induction if their production continues long-term. But even so, they aren’t locks by any means. Wide-out Marvin Harrison — who is bound for Canton — wasn’t re-signed in the offseason. Manning then lost Harrison replacement Anthony Gonzalez to a knee injury in the season opener.
Manning was left with two unproven youngsters to pick up the slack and complement the Wayne/Clark pairing. Pierre Garcon and rookie Austin Collie did just that. The duo fully blossomed in the postseason. Garcon’s 11-catch performance against the New York Jets set an AFC Championship Game record; Collie had 123 receiving yards and a touchdown for the second straight playoff game.
“The timing I have with those guys has improved throughout the season with repetitions,” Manning said Monday during a Super Bowl XLIV news conference. “Repetitions and experience become your best teacher. The fact those guys were playing a ton of snaps since Week 2 has paid great dividends for them.”
As did Manning’s tutoring.
The popular description of Manning as a player/coach isn’t a stretch. No quarterback carries a heavier load. Although offensive coordinator Tom Moore calls the plays, Manning has final say on what is run on the field. Manning’s frequent audibles may be responsible for making the offense so pass-happy, but he is also better than anyone else at operating the no-huddle offense and dissecting a defense before the snap.
Manning is much more at ease than when I spoke to him last February at the Pro Bowl. Still smarting from yet another opening-game playoff loss, Manning wasn’t sure what exactly to expect with Caldwell being elevated to replace seven-year head coach Tony Dungy. There also was the offseason uncertainty about whether Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd — two of the NFL’s top assistants — would be returning in 2009. Manning vented about the situation in May when saying: “Somebody says one thing, then somebody else says another thing. I’m not sure everybody’s on the same page in this building. … I can’t tell you what’s going on.”
Manning doesn’t have to worry about that now. The Colts are being heard loud and clear. Manning is the main reason.
“No matter who they plug into the mix, things don’t ever stop,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said at Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “He’s one of the best of all time.”
No, Drew. For one season, Manning will be the best unless you and the Saints can do something about it.