It’s too soon to judge Manning

Everyone figured Peyton Manning had one last drive in him — one last game-saving, overtime-forcing, legacy-bolstering drive. It was a formality. Manning, the best quarterback in the NFL headed into the Super Bowl, is the most adept two-minute signal-caller I’ve ever seen.

He doesn’t huddle up. He doesn’t hesitate. He simply does. It’s a phenomenon unlike anything else.

It’s why, in Week 10, Bill Belichick went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line. It’s why Saints coach Sean Payton, in the second quarter last Sunday, tried for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1. It’s why, late in the game, the 106 million people watching the Super Bowl on TV were etching out more time in their evening for overtime.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen is inexplicable. You already know this, of course. Tracy Porter. Pick-six. Seventy-four yards. Touchdown.

It was like seeing Tiger Woods falter on a Sunday in the majors. Some things just aren’t supposed to happen, and Manning throwing a game-losing pick-six in the Super Bowl is one of them.

But what’s happened in the days since is even more baffling.

With one play, Manning seemingly went from the game’s greatest quarterback to its biggest choke artist. His playoff record (9-9) was dissected, his legacy was scrutinized and his career was called a series of disappointments.

I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous.

It’s unquestionable that Manning’s fateful throw was horrible (it’s also unquestionable that Reggie Wayne’s route was just as bad).

But what if that pass had fallen incomplete and Manning had won in overtime? Does he all of a sudden become the best quarterback to ever live? Does his playoff record become irrelevant? It depends on whom you ask, but the likely answer would be yes.

The line between great and mediocre shouldn’t be that thin.

The point is, at 33, Manning has done more than any other quarterback in the history of the game. He’s fourth on the all-time passing yards list at 50,128 — only 1,347 yards behind Dan Marino. Before Brett Favre turned 34, he had passed for 43,274 yards and 323 touchdowns. Manning is nearly 7,000 yards and 43 TDs ahead of Favre’s pace.

And I didn’t even mention that he has led the Colts to seven consecutive 12-win seasons.

While these numbers are astounding, it’s championships that matter in football. We all know this. Manning has one Super Bowl, and he will likely play another six or seven seasons. The rest is unknown.

But what’s almost certain, at least to me, is that Sunday’s loss will be just a minor slip-up in Manning’s career. In the future, he’ll throw for more yards, lead more game-winning two-minute drives and, maybe, win more championships.

If Super Bowl XLIV taught us anything, it’s that nothing is a formality.

It’s no longer a formality that, after his career ends, Manning will assume the throne as the best quarterback ever. It’s no longer a formality that he will win multiple Super Bowls. And it’s no longer a formality that every Colts season will end with 12-or-more wins.

But I wouldn’t bet against Manning. The greats always find a way to surprise you.

Scott Miller is a junior at the University of Iowa and a contributor to the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter: @stmillr.

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