LITTLE ROCK — A good ally to have, former NFL player and coach Herm Edwards is on my side when it comes to Peyton Manning’s legacy.
One of ESPN’s most articulate and on-target analysts, Edwards called in this week to do his brief bit on a Little Rock radio station. In the process, he challenged those who say Manning must win a second Super Bowl to secure his place in history. Instead of a sweeping dismissal of the doubters, he cited the 2012 AFC championship game as an example of Manning being blamed for a loss that was not his fault.
Remember? Needing a touchdown to tie Denver, Baltimore faced fourth down at its own 30 when Joe Flacco maxed out his arm. Somehow, cornerback Chris Harris let Jacoby Jones get behind him,. Even worse, safety Rahim Moore swatted at the ball and missed. Flacco got a big contract, the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and Manning’s legacy was questioned by some because his team had lost another playoff game.
Hogwash. Manning was on the bench when Moore went down swinging.
No matter what happens in Denver on Sunday, 20 years from now, NFL aficionados will regale their audience with tales about the prowess of Manning and his New England counterpart, Tom Brady. The contention that Brady is better because his Super Bowl rings outnumber Manning’s 3-to-1 is nonsense. There is no way to measure how many times Manning’s team has overachieved because of the quarterback.
The same thing applies to Brady. Both are smart and clutch. Give me that combo over the physical specimen with the big arm who throws into double coverage on a critical third down.
Unquestionably, quarterback is the most important position on the team, but football is still a team game and either the Broncos or the Patriots will lose.
As for their place in history, no way that Manning and Brady are behind Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw just because both of those guys were 4-0 in the Super Bowl. Both had all-world receivers and other quality help and they played at a time when the league was not as balanced.
Statistics are virtually meaningless because rule changes — including pick plays on the goal line, ignored holding in the offensive line, and hands off the receivers — have changed the game. Manning threw 659 times this year; Bradshaw had a career-high 472 attempts in 1979.
By the same token, now that the muckety-mucks in charge of the offense have admitted that quarterbacks can be effective runners in the NFL, the new breed will make it impossible to compare Manning and Brady with the Colin Kapernicks and Russell Wilsons. Kapernick has run for 939 yards the last two years; Wilson 1,028 during the same period. Manning has run for 697 — in 16 years.
Manning vs. Brady overshadows the fact that the best four teams in the league are still standing and the championship games reflect the generation gap in style. Manning is 37, Brady 36; Kapernick is 26, Wilson 25.
Personally, the NFL on TV is pretty much ignored until the playoffs and, even then, snippets of the first- and second-round games suffice. Similarly, bowl games prior to Jan 1 are of little interest. This time around, the AFC and NFC championship games are more compelling than the recent BCS bowl games.
Hopefully, both Manning and Brady will play equally well and someone else will be the center of attention. Forced to pick a winner, I go for the Broncos because I can’t imagine LaGarrette Blount duplicating his 166-yard, four-touchdown performance of last week.
In the other game, a ticket to the Super Bowl goes to the team with the quarterback who makes the most plays running the ball. I’m pulling for Kapernick and the 49ers because I am tired of hearing that Seattle is unbeatable at home.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.