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Rechecking Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

The Patriots divisional round playoff loss to the Jets and Tom Brady’s poor day were welcomed by many Colts’ faithful.

It’s natural that Indianapolis doesn’t root for New England once the Colts are out of the playoffs considering the rivalry between the two, and considering how fans can go round and round about who’s better -- Peyton Manning or Brady.

Manning’s got four MVPs but only one Super Bowl win. Brady’s got three Super Bowl wins but only one MVP, soon to be two. A large share of fans, columnists, critics and analysts buy into the idea that more championships equals better, and give Brady the overall nod.

(Bill Simmons did a nice job here in discussing how one rival or the other has pulled ahead and looked to be the leader at different stages, among other good nuggets of all things Brady and Manning.)

I used to come down on the Brady side because of the titles. Covering Manning regularly for three seasons now, I will say this: No one in the NFL since I’ve been watching it closely -- starting in the middle 80s -- has done more playing the position than Manning.

I’m not talking wins or yards or touchdowns or titles. I’m talking responsibility and comprehensive mastery of the job.

There has been a good, healthy debate over the idea of a quarterback's wins and losses being a dumb one, because of how many other elements go into a football game. But we obsess about quarterbacks and I believe there is some win-loss carryover from baseball-think. Someone smaller than the team has to get the W and someone has to get the L.

So last week when Manning’s Colts lost to the Jets, I was among the many who wrote that it was the seventh one-and-done in 11 playoff entries for Indianapolis during Manning’s tenure, certainly a significant note. When the Patriots lost to the Jets, many of those Manning supporters were quick to say Brady now has back-to-back one-and-dones.

Also, Brady technically has a three-game playoff losing streak and Manning a two-game playoff losing streak. That's true but skewed. To lose the first of those three, Brady had to steer the Patriots to the Super Bowl. To lose the first of those two, Manning had to guide the Colts there too.

Nate Dunlevy, whose 18to88.com blog bears the slogan “It’s not homerism if you’re right,” regularly defends Manning from his detractors with well-reasoned pieces, like this one that came after the loss to the Jets. Dunlevy was quick to point after Bob Kravitz’s recent column that everybody’s quarterback rating goes down in the playoffs, when they face better teams with higher stakes.

ESPN Stats & Information says these are the current playoff numbers for Manning and Brady.

  • Manning, 9-10 record, 88.4 passer rating (compared to 94.9 in the regular season)

  • Brady, 14-5 record, 85.7 passer rating (compared to 95.2)

Manning’s rating ranks him 10th all-time among quarterbacks with at least 150 postseason pass attempts. Brady’s puts him 12th.

Here’s my general stance on Brady vs. Manning.

I won’t slice up their careers. It’s the entire body of work.

Brady could never win another playoff game, but that would take nothing away from the fact that he helped a team win three Super Bowls in a span of four seasons. Separating him from those to talk about what each quarterback has done in his past 10 playoff starts (Manning 6-4, Brady 5-5) is rather arbitrary, isn’t it? To gerrymander the playoffs in a way that takes the biggest successes away from Brady is akin to drawing lines that leave out the biggest Colts’ failures with Manning under center.

Manning has a better playoff passer rating. To a large degree that indicates he’s done his part on a team that has failed him. It doesn’t tell us when the most important touchdowns or interceptions arrived or did not arrive in January games. It does suggest he gets too much blame.

With a bit of a lesser passer rating, Brady has a better playoff record. It’s certainly come in part because of his coach, teammates and competition. He’s been the face of the franchise’s success, but has probably gotten too much credit.

There isn’t a reasonable quarterback, player, coach, GM, writer or fan that wouldn’t prefer to have Brady’s playoff record to Manning’s postseason rating, of course. That's not part of the debate.

Brady was a central figure in a rare run, the sort that creates an impressive legacy.

It doesn’t prohibit Manning from having one too. And perhaps there is still a rare run to come from the Colts of his era, who knows? John Elway had one at the end. If the Colts don't, it's not as if Manning will be ineligible in conversations about the greatest of all-time. Brett Favre is in those conversations and he has a 1-1 Super Bowl record, which is never brought up as a fault.

More importantly, like the quarterback wins debate, this doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.

Manning and Brady can both be great, they both are great.

Hey, I’m not against the debate. It gets me clicks. That we’re inclined to argue about such things is a big reason I have the job I do, and trust me I love it. But there does not have to be a right answer.

I just went team by team and if I’m one of 26 other NFL franchises, I’d happily take either one over my current quarterback or situation. Two of those teams -- not tough guesses -- are playing for a shot at the Super Bowl this weekend.

The best quarterbacks aren’t always playing in the end.