This is the front page of playoff section in Sunday's Denver Post, hours before the Broncos host the Chargers in the AFC Divisional game. The caption to the right reads: "Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been heavenly during the regular season, but merely mortal in the postseason with a 9-11 record that ranks poorly among the all-time greats."
The "A legacy under a cloud" premise is flawed for any number of reasons but thankfully, the Post's Mike Klis writes about more than the 9-11 record, touching on everything from skewed perceptions about Manning in the postseason to this reality: Many of Manning's defenses over the years have been pretty awful.
"So many of those Indy teams were soft on defense," Klis writes. "This year's Broncos have allowed an average of 24.9 points per game — easily the most among teams remaining in the NFL tournament's Elite Eight.
"Given the makeup of so many Manning-led teams, it's pretty much up to the offense to carry them. And it's looking that way again Sunday, even though in their last meeting, Dec. 12, the Chargers abused the Broncos in yards rushing, 177-18."
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000 but wasn't considered a franchise quarterback, offers up a nuanced, smart take on Manning's playoff performance.
"I think football has so many layers to it that we want to direct a narrative to focus it simplistically and say he's 9-11 and Tom Brady is (17-7), so he's not as good as Tom Brady," Dilfer told Klis. "That's the water-cooler talk that people want to make. ...
"I can tell you from studying Peyton over his entire career that he's played really well in some playoff games they've lost," Dilfer continued. "He's played not so great in games they've lost, but it's not the playoffs that makes him play bad. He's had dropped balls. They haven't been able to run the ball as well. Protection has been an issue. There are reasons for some of his performances that aren't so hot."
And that -- not some vague notion of Manning stumbling his way through January -- should be the takeaway.
Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, Manning's NFL future beyond this season won't be decided until he has an offseason exam on his surgically repaired neck, according to an ESPN report.
Peyton Manning plans to play '14 season. Super Bowl win or playoff loss will not decide his fate. His mandatory physical exam in March will.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 12, 2014
* Image via @StaceyDales