Hypothetically, the Indianapolis Colts could be knocking on the door of the hallowed record of perfection heading into the Super Bowl.
The Colts stormed through the regular season, winning 14 straight games until Jim Caldwell decided to rest his starters for the last two contests. Had the first-year coach decided to play his starters the whole game against the Jets in week 16, we could be looking at a run not seen since the 1972 Dolphins’ 17-0 season of NFL lore.
But Caldwell sat his first stringers in fear maybe one of his All-Pros would be injured.
Ironically, defensive end Dwight Freeney heads into the game having sprained his right ankle in the AFC Championship game. But the one cog that is working at its highest output and shows no signs of wear is inarguably the Colts’ most critical component: Peyton Manning.
First, let us take a look at the resume.
He has a record-four regular season MVPs and is among the top five all-time in wins, completions, yards and touchdowns. Save his rookie year and 2005, he’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards every season, with a career-quarterback rating of 95.2. The ironman has started every single game he’s played since being drafted in ‘98 and has thrown 25 or more touchdown passes in 12 consecutive seasons. Oh, and he has a Super Bowl ring.
He’s often been called the supreme orchestrator of the Colts offense. He’ll read defenses and bark out commands to his teammates, identifying blitzes and schemes. Essentially, he’s become a coach on the field.
Colts owner Jim Irsay sees the irreplaceable value of Manning, telling sports reporters on Super Bowl Media Day that he wholeheartedly plans on making him the highest-paid player in the NFL.
Manning is the driving force behind the success of the Colts, and essentially the outcome of the game comes down to how effective he’ll be. And if his most recent season is any indicator, the Saints will need all the luck they can muster.
In the regular season, besides his 4,500 yards, 33 TDs and 99.9 QB rating, Manning had a better QB rating on the road (112.6) than home (89.9). The Super Bowl is basically a road game, and this year will be played at Dolphin Stadium in Miami – coincidentally the venue the Colts and Manning took home Super Bowl rings in ‘07.
Being that the game will be played outdoors, Manning’s 121.9 QB rating and .743 completion percentage on grass in ‘09 is better than his numbers on turf (90.7, .666). So, out goes the theory of the Colts being a team tailored to playing indoors.
“Both teams are going to score a lot of points regardless,” said John Norwood, a junior at EMU majoring in communications. “It’s just a matter of who has the ball last.”
Norwood as well as many pundits and experts think the game will be close, including the oddsmakers in Vegas (Colts, -5). If the game does come down to who is driving down the field with time winding down, Manning showed us this season there is simply no one better.
In the last two minutes of a half, the QB has a 112.6 rating with .676 completion percentage. In the fourth quarter it gets even better: a 115.3 rating, .718 completion percentage. And if the game is close in the last quarter, forget about it. In the fourth when the margin is within seven, Manning has a 135.8 rating with a .750 completion percentage.
This is all without mentioning the All-Pro supporting cast Manning has to throw to in Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and the emerging Pierre Garcon.
Garcon is of specific importance, as he has emerged as a legitimate deep threat. The wide receiver out of Div. III Mount Union (Ohio) won the conference title game MVP after breaking the record for most receptions in an AFC Championship Game with 11, to go along with his 151 yards and one touchdown. Not to mention the guy is of Haitian decent, so he definitely has fate on his side.
“I like the Colts more,” Andrew Fretz said, a senior psychology major at EMU. “I think Peyton Manning is going to do it this year.”
All sorts of articles are popping up by numerous sportswriters saying if Manning wins Sunday, he will either supplant or be in the same mention as names like Montana and Elway in the pantheon that is the greatest QBs of all-time. I tend to agree.
“Because of Peyton Mannning,” Norwood said, in response to who will win. “Four-time MVP, one-time Super Bowl winner, best quarterback in the league – arguably ever. Why not take them.”
I don’t see why not, either. Norwood predicted a 38-35 Colts victory and so am I.
See you in the Hall of Fame, Mr. Manning.