As a Patriots fan, I couldn’t have asked for a better Super Bowl than last night’s: well played, close, hard-hitting, and ending with the perennially overrated Peyton Manning throwing a deliciously inexcusable pick six.
I was overjoyed with the return of the Manning Face because, unlike Phil, I didn’t think before the game that Manning belonged anywhere near the discussion about best quarterbacks ever. I think it’s pretty obvious that he isn’t even the best quarterback in the league today, and I was glad to see my beliefs reinforced.
Look at Manning’s line from the game:
And compare to Tom Brady’s line from a similar game, his Patriots’ 2007 upset at the hands of the New York Giants:
Those box scores are fairly similar, except that Manning threw for more yards and also had a terrible, game-losing pick six.
But QB lines only tell half the story. QBs have to play with teammates and against defenses. Famously, in the 2007 Super Bowl Brady was sacked five times, was knocked down many more, and faced constant pressure from Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Michael Strahan — all great pass rushers having the best game of their lives. Last night, conversely, Manning was not sacked once, and only knocked down three times, none of them hard. I can’t remember the last time I watched a football game where the QB wasn’t sacked at least once.
So if you want to talk about the best QB ever or the best QB playing, let’s start with those two games. Biggest stage possible, both QB’s trying to cement their reputations, both losing against underdogs. Brady faced incredibly tough pressure and managed to engineer a late game drive. Manning faced no pressure at all and choked.
Now consider that Brady already had all the single-season passing records, not to mention three Super Bowl rings.
I think that Phil accidentally led into a larger point about comparing QBs when he wrote “But as far as I’m concerned, if I was going into the big game and could choose one quarterback, I’d still choose Joe Montana in his prime over Manning in a heart beat.”
Having made the point that Manning’s success is attributable in large part to his offensive line’s success against the opposing team’s pass rushers (which I would argue has been the case over Manning’s whole career), I think it’s easy to extend that argument to Joe Montana’s success.
Montana is actually the example Michael Lewis used in his book The Blind Side to make a point that I’m amazed has not had a bigger impact on football. Lewis really was trying to do for football what he did for baseball with Moneyball — inject some stats into the prevailing folklore-style modes of analysis. Instead, the book turned out to be interpreted as an inspiration story and tailor-made Hollywood plot.
Joe Montana obviously was a great QB in both the NFL and college (and bear in mind that while I’m biased against Manning, as a Notre Dame fan I’m biased for Montana). Is it a coincidence, though, that his replacement for the 49ers, Steve Young, was also wildly successful immediately upon succeeding Montana, and is now considered another of the all-time greats?
In The Blind Side, Lewis makes a convincing case that lightning didn’t strike the ’80s 49ers twice. Instead, much of both Montana’s and Young’s success can be explained by the excellent offensive lines that both played behind, and the implementation of the West Coast offense. Lewis presents the evidence that the most important indicator of a QB’s success — which Bill Walsh understood at some level — was the time between the snap and when a rusher got to the QB. All of the other factors, like the many nebulous virtues assumed of successful QBs, are distant seconds.
Bottom line: don’t ask me to be amazed at a QB like Manning who puts up amazing numbers behind great O-lines. Brady did much more with significantly inferior O-lines. What I am amazed at is Manning’s refound ability to squander his advantages in big games.
I see that Jim, a fellow Pats fan, has managed to write a much less partisan judgment of Manning’s relative status. His point is that Drew Brees deserves to be in the discussion of best QB in the NFL right now. I agree. He had the best season by far, in my book. And the ring has to count for something.
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