By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Believe it or not, I'm happy for Peyton Manning.
As much as No. 18's postseason career was a relative underachievement, he was too great to end up with just one Super Bowl ring. And much to the presumed joy of the NFL front office, the Denver Broncos upset the favored Carolina Panthers and lifted Peyton out of Trent Dilfer territory.
"Operation 18 Sunset" was a smashing success in Super Bowl 50, as the Broncos quarterback got to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in his career and, ostensibly, go out on top by retiring after winning the Big Game. With the win, Manning solidified his place among the very best QBs to ever play.
Key word, "among." Manning is absolutely one of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history, just not No. 1. If you're from the New England area (which you most likely are), I don't need to convince you of anything. I only felt the need to bring this up because the ever-resilient Manning supporters in the national media have already laid out their arguments for why this win vaults Manning to the top of the mountain, ahead of the likes of Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
Take Neil Greenberg's postgame column for the Washington Post. He makes the super-popular argument that Manning wasn't as bad in the postseason as people believe. It's true that Manning was not a bad postseason quarterback over the course of his career, just an underachiever compared to what he could have accomplished. He bested Brady in three of the four AFC Championship meetings between those two, which is the very best case you could possibly make for him over TB12.
The column fails when it presents "career adjusted net yards per pass attempt" and rattled off all of his gaudy regular season records as practically the end-all-be-all of why Peyton deserves to be considered the greatest. The professional look of its handy charts suggests that the whole thing was written and prepared before the Super Bowl even happened. It fails to mention that Brady has not yet retired and himself plans to play several more years.
Brady will have a great chance of breaking all of Manning's career regular season records, which so many people love to cling to in their pro-Manning arguments. Brady needs to average 3,478 passing yards and 28 touchdowns over the next four seasons to pass just those two marks. He will pass Peyton in career wins by the start of the 2017 season. And what if Brady and the Patriots win a fifth Super Bowl in there somewhere? What will the Manning camp have left, if and when that happens?
There's also Steve Serby's column in the New York Post with the headline "Peyton Manning should rest his case as best QB of all time." Well ... The prosecution still loses here.
You may be reading this assuming that I'm just operating on a New England bias; as a lifelong Patriots fan, that's not entirely untrue. But, for the record, it's still quite arguable that Montana reigns supreme with his impeccable postseason record and spotless performances in Super Bowls. If you give the edge to Montana over Brady, I won't begrudge you. But if you give Peyton the edge over either of those two? You're about six years behind. He lost his chance to join those guys once he and the rest of the Broncos got steamrolled by the Seattle Seahawks on the grandest stage and Brady solved that same defense in the Super Bowl a year later.
Like Brady early in his career, in Super Bowl 50 Peyton got to experience the benefits of having good coaching and a superb defense to lean on. These Broncos won on defense for the entire season, and they proved that this year's unit deserves to be named among the greatest of all time with its dominating performances against three elite quarterbacks. Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brady scored one touchdown between them against the Broncos.
There's no doubt that Brady got a lot of help from the stifling early-2000s Patriots defense, especially against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. But he also led the final drive of the game to set up Adam Vinatieri for the game-winning field goal and lit it up in his second MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXVIII; he wasn't entirely a passenger. And Brady's late-career Super Bowl win, if it turns out to be his last, was won largely on his arm. Yes, Malcolm Butler saved him and the Patriots from massive disappointment, but Brady put the team in position to win with his incredible fourth quarter performance.
Peyton's playoff career can be looked at through a revisionist prism when looking at the raw numbers. No, he has not had the same kind of luxuries as Brady has had in terms of coaching, continuity, and defense (until this season). Yes, he has put up better overall numbers than Brady in some respects.
However, I'm a believer in the theory that, regardless of how QBs or their teams played in the games themselves, it all ultimately evens out in the end. Re-write history with stat sheets and arbitrary "team support" stats all you want; the best way to evaluate the greats is by checking the scoreboard. For Peyton, two rings sound about right.
Brady could have six or seven Super Bowls, or he could have just one or two. Four is about right. Peyton could have three or four Super Bowls, or he could have zero. Two is about right. He's too good to be placed alongside the likes of Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Jeff Hostetler with the single ring, but he simply wasn't great enough in the postseason to reach Montana or Brady. At best, you now have a debate between Peyton and Elway for No. 3 all-time.
Peyton had an amazing career and deserves credit for making it to four Super Bowls with four different coaches, as well as winning two Super Bowls with two different franchises. He's arguably the third-greatest QB in history. He's just not THE greatest. He has long lost his chance at that title. But that hasn't stopped his miles-long list of lapdogs from propping him up in one final effort to push him to the top of the list. Stop trying to make "Peyton is the G.O.A.T." happen because it's not going to happen.
Fans in this region might ask themselves "Wait, people are still arguing for Manning over Brady?" You may have read the headline to this article and thought, "Duh." As asinine as it may sound to you, it is very much alive in other parts of the country, but to those with eyes and brains, it's been over for a long time. Montana and Brady closed the book on the debate years ago, but many people, who apparently cover sports for a living and have watched these QBs play for nearly two decades, are still prying it open. They need the Jaws Of Life and some bolt-cutters to unlock that book, but damn if they're not going to try.
I'm assuming this column will garner plenty of hatred from Peyton fans who will continue to accuse me of being biased against him and in favor of Brady - at least, if they care to read the truth instead of plugging their ears and going "LALALALALALA" when you try to tell it like it is. Yes, I am biased ... in favor of rings. And when you take the list of the very best QBs to play the game (no, it doesn't include Terry Bradshaw, put your straw man away), Peyton comes up just a little short.
I don't blame you for loving Peyton Manning; he's been a class act and exceedingly likable superstar throughout his career, and he's one of the greatest QBs of all time. He's just not No. 1. Stop it with that. Even with this last big win, when it comes to the G.O.A.T., Peyton still loses.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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