As enjoyable as the 2011-12 NFL season has been, it hasn’t been the same without Peyton Manning. Now word comes that we may never see Peyton play another NFL game. True or not, it is an appropriate time to look back & celebrate one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
I am certainly not a big Peyton Manning fan. As a matter of a fact, you could have called me a hater for many years. Like many, I began to resent Peyton after the marketing machine got into full swing. Yet after witnessing the greatest comeback I had ever seen on Monday Night Football in 2003, I came around.
It is easy to look back, pick out the flaws, and call him overrated. However, if there was ever a season to reflect on and appreciate how great he was, look no further than the 2011-12 season in which Manning’s Colts are winless without their leader. Talk about vindication!
Furthermore, this season is not exactly an anomaly. Take a look back at the Colts under Manning and you will find a team with a consistently underachieving defense, specifically in the running game. It is a lot easier to win games when your defense is giving you great field position and getting off the field in four downs. It is another thing altogether to put together a consistently winning record with little support on the side of the ball. Tom Brady certainly hasn’t been able to do it since most of his defensive studs retired a few years back.
So today I look back at the top ten memorable career moments of arguably the greatest QB in NFL history. The comebacks, the milestone games, and the big wins may be gone forever, but they certainly will never be forgotten by those lucky to watch the Peyton Manning era of Colts football.
January 21, 2007 New England Patriots 38, Indianapolis Colts 38 AFC Championship Game – I know that a Super Bowl is bigger than an AFC championship game, but beating Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots after trailing 18 points to get the Super Bowl is huge! Down 18 points in the second quarter, Manning rallied the team, winning the game on a historic 7 play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a Colts field goal. Manning went into the game 0-2 against a team that some felt were easy Super Bowl champions. Manning got a lot of monkeys off his back this day.
February 4, 2007 Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17 Super Bowl XLI – From 1998-2006 Manning had some big wins, but he could never achieve the big one. Would he go down as one of the greatest QBs never to win the Super Bowl. Nope! Trailing 0-7, Manning entered the game and threw an interception. Is he really going to choke against Rex Grossman? Manning would not choke and throw a beautiful 53-yard TD to Reggie Wayne to cut the lead 6-7 (the Colts botched the extra point). Manning would later lead the team on several scoring drives but was unable to throw another TD. With 1 TD and 247 yards of passing, Manning won the game MVP and the big one.
October 6, 2003 Indianapolis Colts 38, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35 – Mark down October 6, 2003 as the night I came around on Peyton Manning. I don’t know why but for me, this is the most memorable Monday Night Football game I have ever seen. The Colts were trailing 0-21 at halftime on the road to the defending Super Bowl champions. Manning put together six scoring drives after halftime, keeping the Buccaneers off the field for most of the half. Trailing 14-35, Manning put together four scoring drives to none and won the game for the Colts. Writing about this game doesn’t do it justice. It needs to be seen to be believed and if there is a greater comeback on Monday night history, I couldn’t tell you what it is.
January 4, 2004 Denver Broncos 10, Indianapolis Colts 41 – Peyton Manning came into this season with a ton of pressure. He was getting the publicity, he was getting the accolades, but were they deserved? For six seasons Peyton Manning had never won a playoff game. Could he win the big one? You’re damned he right he can. Manning won his first postseason game. He was brilliant, throwing for TDs on the first four possessions of the game, finishing for 377 yards and five TDs.
January 11, 2003 Indianapolis 38, Kansas City Chiefs 31 – As mentioned above, It was in 2003 that the Manning critics were louder than ever. He could win regular season games, he could come from behind, but could he win a playoff game on the road? He did and did he ever, in one of the most hostile road stadiums. A battle of two of the most explosive offenses of the 2002-03 season ended with Manning winning a predictable shootout in a game in which the Colts never trailed.
December 05, 1999 Indianapolis Colts 37, Miami Dolphins 34 – Long before the Colts-Patriots rivalry, Manning was thrust in the midst of an old school divisional rivalry between the Colts and the Dolphins. Manning led the Colts on a game winning drive over the Dan Marino led Dolphins in a win that would become absolutely critical to the team taking the next step and earning a divisional title.
September 6, 1998 Miami Dolphins 24, Indianapolis Colts 15 – This isn’t exactly a memorable game like the others but it belongs on the list for one reason. Manning threw his first of 399 passing touchdowns in his first career start against one of his early rivals at home. The TD also marked the first of 112 combined scores between the most prolific combination in NFL history.
November 15, 1998 Indianapolis Colts 24, New York Jets 23 – The first of many comeback wins for Peyton Manning and the Colts. After exploding for 20 points in the second quarter, the Jets came into the second half of the game leading 23-10. The defense stepped up and shut the Jets out for the remainder of the game while Manning went on to throw two touchdown passes to win the game for the Colts by one point.
September 14, 2008 Indianapolis Colts 18, Minnesota Vikings 15 – One thing Peyton doesn’t get enough credit for is his toughness. Manning started 227 NFL games in a row at QB and played through plenty of pain. This game in September 2008 epitomized Manning’s grit. Manning came into the season with one good leg after offseason surgery. After losing in Week 1, Manning engineered another one of his memorable career comebacks. No Dallas Clark, No Jeff Saturday, no problem for Manning. Down0-15 at the end of the third quarter, Manning engineered two touchdown drives and a game-winning drive that put the Colts in position to kick a field goal with 0:03 left for the come from behind win.