A lot of words come to mind when Peyton Manning’s name is brought up in conversations by people with knowledge of football. Words like genius and innovator, descriptions that compare him to the greatest of all time. I for one, believe that Peyton is among the greatest to have ever stepped under center. Children everywhere for the last decade plus have been lining up in their backyards, pretending they are Peyton Manning dropping back to throw crucial passes with the game on the line. A pop icon as well, Peyton has transcended the sport and utilized his success on the field to garner attention in commercials of sorts and even hosted a hilarious episode of Saturday Night Live. The stigma he lives with however, despite winning a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, is one of a player who is terrific in the regular season, but who fizzles out when it matters most, come playoff time. Which leads many pundits to describe him as “The greatest regular season quarterback” of all time.
Enter John Fox. Fox has been widely known around the league as a defensive mind who always tends to play his hand as close to the vest as possible. The scenario faced in the divisional round playoff game against the surging Baltimore Ravens is a glaring example of such. After giving up a blown coverage touchdown that tied the game to Jacoby Jones late in the 4th quarter, The Denver Broncos got the ball back with 31 seconds left on the clock and 2 remaining timeouts. The conservative Fox, decided to have Manning kneel on the ball and take their chances in overtime; a decision that proved costly. Fox is quoted as saying “I’d do it again 10 times if it presented itself 10 times in that situation.”
How on Earth, with a future 1st ballot Hall of Fame Quarterback, could even the most conservative coach make this decision in a win or go home game? You have to give your MVP candidate QB a chance to win the game for you by at least getting the ball in to FG range. The average length of successful field goals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High is 5 yards greater than the NFL average at all other stadiums. Matt Prater, the Denver place kicker has an all time personal long 59 yard field goal at that very same stadium. Essentially Peyton Manning would have had to advance the ball to the Ravens 42 yard for an equally long attempt. So instead of trusting Peyton Manning’s late game wear-with-all, and giving him the opportunity to move his team 38 yards with 2 timeouts, Fox sent the call in to take a knee, a gamble that didn’t work out in the end.
Playing the “odds” or not, the decision will be lamented in Denver for years to come. Many critics say that Fox may not have had faith in Peyton’s arm-strength. To which one only has to look at same game reference and figure out that he had more than enough arm strength to make precision sideline throws throughout the entirety of the game up until that point. Others claim that Fox made the decision because of his trust for his defense, one of the NFL’s top 5 squads from this season. Excuse me, isn’t this the same defense that had been burnt on pass plays of 70, 59, and 32 yards respectively? A defense that had surrendered 35 points to the Baltimore Ravens in regulation and whose vaunted pass rush had done little to nothing to disrupt Joe Flacco? Those don’t sound like the best odds to me in a situation where giving up just one touchdown means the end of the game. Lastly, critics state that Manning has zero wins in cold weather in the playoffs. They make the case that Peyton Manning wearing a glove on his throwing hand effected the outcome and his performance. To prepare for the possibility of wintry weather, the four-time NFL MVP wore an orange-and-gray glove on his throwing hand the last two games of the season. Manning was quite effective, too, with the glove. His completion percentage was almost 6 points better and his passer rating almost 20 points higher than without it.
All of this might have just been swept under the rug had it not been for the events that unfolded just a day later in the Georgia Dome. Faced with a similar situation, only down by 1 point, the Atlanta Falcons, spearheaded by Matt Ryan, traveled the necessary distance with a mirror image 31 seconds left. Seahawks coach Pete Carrol called a timeout to ice the kicker but to no avail. Matt Bryant delivered, hitting the game winning field goal to advance the Falcons to the NFC Championship game.
Bronco’s fans everywhere should feel duped by their coach and by their management. Bill Belichik is quoted as saying “Of course, you don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it, You have to go out there and attack. You have to make plays you need to make to win.’’ Its interesting the term he used is a “FOX -hole”. As far as management goes, how do you think John Elway, noted as being the comeback king, would have reacted if Mike Shanahan had taken the ball out of his hands at the end of a do or die game? I understand playing it safe, but a certain time comes when all of that is thrown by the wayside, and a team needs to function at its highest capacity in the moment to win a game.
Whether its statistics, or lack of confidence, or the weather, the fact remains that John Fox took the ball out of the hands of arguably one of the greatest QB’s to ever play the game when it was crunch time. The fans in Denver could have had the opportunity and chance to see an all time great performance by one of the all time greats in a pressure packed, win or go home scenario. It could have been a moment for the ages. It could have been the stamp of approval on a legacy that is sadly one year closer to ending. It could have been alot of things, but what it was, was a monumental failure on the coaching staff’s part to try and finish in a must win game.
Meanwhile those kids are in the backyard still, throwing passes to their friends, pretending the game is on the line. They are emulating the greats in those great moments. Those kids, not bothered by issues like job security, or media hype, or management pressure, understand that football is, in the end, just a game; but isn’t the point of a game to win? Don’t worry about practicing how to take a knee kids, you already have the right idea on how the game should be played.