Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has officially been ruled out in Sunday’s opener against the Houston Texans. Veteran backup Kerry Collins, recently plucked from retirement, will start in his place. This is much bigger news than any of the mumbo-jumbo the president is likely to spew about jobs.
Manning was on track to break Brett Favre’s consecutive start streak with about five additional seasons or so of play. Now Favre’s record is secure. How the Colts do without Manning will also feed into the debate over whether he is a better quarterback than Tom Brady.
When Brady went down at the beginning of the 2008 season, the New England Patriots played quarterback Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school, and still went 11-5. If the Colts do poorly with Collins at the helm, many will say this proves Brady is a system quarterback while Manning is integral to his team’s success. After all, didn’t the Patriots only go 10-6 Brady’s first season back?
But there’s a counterargument: as well as Cassel played — he won himself a job as the franchise quarterback in Kansas City — he still took an offense Brady led to an undefeated record in the 2007 regular season to an 11-5 record. Brady fell short in the Super Bowl, but Cassel missed the playoffs.
Moreover, the Patriots played the weak AFC West and NFC West divisions that year, beating all but one of those teams. That accounted for 7 of their 11 wins, with the other four coming from within the AFC East. Cassel benefited from an easy schedule. The team was different by the time Brady returned, with no viable third receiver and a suspect defense.
If the Colts falter without Manning, it will be at least partly attributable to the fact that Collins has had so little time to prepare — he didn’t arrive until the third preseason game and didn’t play until the fourth — and the backups behind him are clearly subpar. By contrast, Cassel was in his third year in the Patriots’ system by the time his number was called.
The case for Manning has always been his command of the offense, the fact that he calls his own plays, his regular season stats, and his pure passing ability. The case for Brady has always been the fact that he plays outdoors, his ability to do more with a lesser supporting cast, and his superior postseason record. They are both unquestionably great.