Monday, January 25, 2016

Obligatory Peyton Manning-Tom Brady "Legacy" Blog

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The Denver Broncos' relentless pass rush and play making secondary propelled them to Super Bowl 50 yesterday in an upset win over the visiting New England Patriots.

Or, as every other sports headline tells it: Peyton Manning defeated Tom Brady in the 17th meeting between two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Manning will move onto his fourth Super Bowl, and will be the oldest quarterback to ever start on Super Sunday. Furthermore, he improved his record against Brady to 6-11, and has gone an even 5-5 against Tom Terrific in their last 10 meetings, including three postseason wins in a row against his nemesis.

Despite the overall record, Manning actually now leads the all-time postseason series 3-2, and hasn't lost to Brady in the playoffs since the 2004 season.

Who cares that this game was about far more than these two guys, as both defenses played lights out, let the quarterback debate rage on!

On one side, you have Tom Brady, with his four Super Bowl wins, two league MVPs and what I would call the greatest quarterback career résumé in NFL history.

On the other side, Peyton Manning and his league-record five MVPs, to go with numerous all-time passing records, now a winning postseason record against Brady and his one Super Bowl (hey, he might get another one).

The "legacy" debate between these two is always fun, and seems to favor Tom Brady. After all, "you play to win the game," and nobody does more winning than the Patriots' star quarterback.

Not only is Brady tied with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most Super Bowl wins (4), he is also tied with Montana for most Super Bowl MVPs (3), and stands alone among quarterbacks in terms of Super Bowl appearances (6), playoff wins (22), conference title game appearances (10), playoff games started (31), postseason comeback wins (6), and playoff game-winning drives (9).

Brady is the sport's consummate winner, and he's made so many big plays in huge moments, that we seem to forget when he plays poorly. I call it the "Michael Jordan Effect." Think about it. Have you ever heard about Michael Jordan playing poorly in a postseason game, or missing a game-winning shot? Of course not, and it isn't because those things didn't happen, it's because Jordan was so great so often, that we just collectively forgot those blemishes.

Sure, the fact that Twitter didn't exist in the 80s and 90s also helps his case, but the fact remains that, once you get a reputation as a "winner," it almost never goes away, and vice versa (ie, Kobe Bryant vs LeBron James).

Take yesterday's loss in Denver, a place Brady is now 2-7 on his career, including 0-3 in the playoffs. If, say, Peyton Manning would have been totally failed by his offensive line, but got a great game from his defense, and squandered it by throwing two critical interceptions, then failed to complete a two-point conversion pass to tie the game at the end, what would the narrative be?

"Manning can't get it done in the clutch."

"When the pressure's on, Manning breaks down."

"Manning wastes great defensive effort in loss."

"Manning blows final chance at redemption."

Yet, outside of the most delusional of Patriot haters, you won't see any of that in relation to Tom Brady's game yesterday. Pretty much everyone acknowledges that Brady rarely had more than a second to throw, and when you face that much pressure, you're going to turn it over (a pair of interceptions), and you're going to hit funks (at one period in the fourth quarter, Brady had thrown five straight incompletions before leading a final touchdown drive).

He's a "winner," so the narrative becomes "even Brady can't overcome Patriots' line issues."

The truth is, team success shouldn't be the chief measure of individual greatness. While it's undeniable that Brady has had more team success, was he really the better player back when he beat Peyton Manning in two playoff games in the early 2000s? Absolutely not. Manning was the NFL's MVP in 2003 and 2004, both years he lost to New England in the playoffs, while Brady wasn't even a Pro Bowler in 2003, and didn't make the All Pro team in '04.

I get that Tom won those games, but to say that he was a better player is ludicrous. No, it more likely had to do with the fact that Indianapolis' scoring defense was ranked 20th and 19th, respectively, in 2003 and 2004, and that, let's face it, Bill Belichick is a far better coach than Tony Dungy.

No offense Tony, he's far better than almost any coach in NFL history.

Now, was Peyton Manning a better player than Tom Brady this year? Haha, good one. Manning threw 17 interceptions in just nine starts during the regular season, and his arm strength clearly isn't what it used to be. There are at least a dozen quarterbacks you'd rather have starting for you than him right now (and that's being generous), while Brady was, by every metric, a Top-3 signal caller this year.

The point is, to just make it about wins and losses when discussing individual players, especially in the consummate "team sport," is foolish.

Think how different their legacies would be if one or two plays had changed-

If the "Tuck Rule" doesn't go Brady's way. If John Kasey doesn't kick the ball off out of bounds in Super Bowl 38. If the Seahawks just run the damn ball last year.

Now, let's not just take away from Tom, because he was two absurd Giants catches away from winning championships in 2007 and 2011 as well.

On Manning's side, a flukey double-OT playoff loss to the Ravens in 2012 ended a promising season, as did weird losses to the Chargers in 2007 and 2008. And let's not forget an entire team letdown at home against Pittsburgh in 2005, which included the most accurate kicker in NFL history missing a potential-tying field goal on the game's final play.

Also note how funny "legacy defining" moments can be, where we almost penalize players for getting far enough to fail at the biggest stage. For instance, some people think Joe Montana's legacy is greater than Tom Brady's because he never lost a Super Bowl. Actually, I'd give Tom Brady the edge because he made it to Super Sunday two more times.

Similarly, Brady supporters point to Peyton Manning's Super Bowl failures in 2009 and 2013 as evidence that Brady is superior, but don't even mention the fact that Manning beat (and outplayed) Brady in the 2013 AFC Championship Game, or that Brady lost in the first round of the playoffs, at home to Joe Flacco, in 2009. Are we really penalizing Manning for years where he and his team were clearly better than Brady? How does that prove a point?

There are other examples for both players, but you get the point. Each has benefited from, and been punished by, things they couldn't control, and each has been penalized for being close, but not the best.

So, can we just look at raw numbers? After all, those would seem to paint a rosy picture for Manning, who holds every relevant career passing record, and has the most MVPs in league history, no small feat to be sure.

That's probably not the way to go either because, first of all, Brady's numbers are historically great as well, and comparing players from different systems is never totally fair.

One thing both these guys might have in common is they haven't won when they've been at their best.

Manning's best individual seasons were probably 2004 and 2013, both seasons where he was blown out in the playoffs (2004 at New England and 2013 in the Super Bowl vs Seattle), while Brady's best years were followed by huge playoff letdowns in 2007 (upset in the Super Bowl by the Giants to spoil the undefeated season) and 2010 (upset loss to the Jets in the first round).

Still, they are undeniably two of the best ever, and they've won when they've had good pieces around them. "The Manning doesn't win big games" argument is over blown, because the dude is going to his fourth Super Bowl, and the "Brady just plays on good teams" argument is over blown, because he's actually carried some heavily undermanned squads the last few seasons.

I've heard the argument that Peyton Manning is LeBron James, while Tom Brady is Michael Jordan. In the way that the media covers them, this is somewhat true. Manning has the reputation of an extremely gifted and driven player, but one that just doesn't have the "it" factor when the game is on the line.

Never mind the fact that Manning has won a Super Bowl, led countless game-winning drives, and gotten the better of Brady in the playoffs, or that LeBron James was the only reason Cleveland won a game in last year's NBA Finals, and that the King won back-to-back titles… Narratives are narratives, and we don't like to change them.

Brady, on the other hand, has the aforementioned "Jordan Effect" that allows us to forget pretty much any time he's failed. But, is Brady really the Michael Jordan of football? His career probably follows that of Tim Duncan's a little closer, and I think that makes this argument even more interesting.

Think about it. Duncan came into the league and won titles early on as a youngster on a veteran team, led by a savant coach. Over the years, the Spurs have remained contenders, winning titles seemingly when there isn't another "great" team out there, and occasionally reaching great levels themselves (the 2014 team that beat Miami was absurd, and Duncan was past his prime for that team).

Brady and the Patriots, meanwhile, filled the NFL power vacuum in the early 2000s, riding a magical run in 2001, then taking titles again when there wasn't really another great team in 2003 and 2004. Both of those latter title teams were built around Top-2 scoring defenses, and only the 2004 team compares favorably to the better historical teams.

The Patriots are rarely dominant, but they're always at least "very good," and win titles in years when they stay healthy and there isn't a great team. 2007 and 2010 were supposed to be the years they were truly great, but we know how that worked out.

This isn't about rehashing past successes and failures in-depth, though, it's about the simple fact that Brady and the Patriots, like Duncan and the Spurs, are always there. Sometimes they are able to win in the playoffs, and sometimes they aren't, but clearly they've had their miscues, because otherwise they'd have far more championships. In fact, the last five years for New England, where they've made five straight AFC Championship Games, is the perfect example of this.

You'd expect to win the Super Bowl one out of every four times you make the conference title game because, uh, there are four teams left at that point, and the Patriots have done just that, winning one Super Bowl and reaching two in that span. Belichick and Brady know that if they just stay good enough to get that far, it's a matter of splitting hairs to win championships, and sometimes the hairs split your way.

Manning, on the other hand, like LeBron, has changed coaches, supporting casts and locations, yet still kept himself in the championship conversation regardless.

It should also be pointed out that Duncan leads LeBron five NBA championships to two, while LeBron leads Duncan four MVPs to two. Yes, the similarities are rather striking.

So, which player is better? The one that has played in one culture under one coach with more team success, or the guy that has made changes, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, and still maintained a level of success?

The obvious answer is, it's impossible to know, because we can't put each player in the other's shoes, but we can look at what they did as individuals and pick which one we believe is better. In basketball, I'm gonna say that Duncan has had the better career, but LeBron, at his peak, was the better player.

I don't think it's quite as clear in football, but I'll go with the same outcome and say Brady has definitely had the better career, but Manning has been the better player (most years).

But hey, that's just my opinion, which is what makes this debate so much fun. Either way, it doesn't matter, because the Broncos are on to Super Bowl 50, where they'll have to hope their defense can slow down Cam Newton. Otherwise, this win over Brady will likely be somewhat forgotten, and the Super Bowl loss will be held against Manning.

No comments :