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Peyton Manning, Seahawks and more in NFL Unfiltered: Divisional Playoff Edition

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Amid all the noise coming from Peyton Manning’s publicists, otherwise known as the national sports media, one thing is perfectly clear: the Denver Broncos/Manning marriage failed miserably.

Not because they lost a heartbreaker in double-overtime to the spiritually-charged Baltimore Ravens.  Not because there are many who believe Manning needed to advance further than Tim Tebow did last year to validate his worth.  And certainly not because Broncos’ safety Rahim Moore Bill Buckner-ed his way into NFL lore.

No, the reason why Manning and the Broncos must feel like an offseason of courtship and a MPeyton Manning photo: USAToday.comVP-worthy season wasted everyone’s time is because when the pressure grew the most intense, head coach John Fox didn’t trust his future Hall of Famer.  

Think about that for a moment.  The Broncos were so desperate for an upgrade at the quarterback position, so desperate to rid themselves of all things Tebow they essentially gave Manning a blank check. Surely, Manning’s arrival meant they valued the benefits of the forward pass, right?   

Yet, with 3:12 left in regulation and a 35-28 lead Fox either ordered or cosigned five consecutive running plays, including a rather weak effort on 3rd and 7.  And if that weren’t enough evidence of Fox’s distrust, he sent Manning out to take a knee at his own 20-yard line with the score tied, two timeouts and thirty-one seconds to go before overtime. Late in that 4th quarter with the players on edge, battling frigid, high-altitude conditions, Fox bared his football soul to the fans, to the media and most importantly, to Manning.  

Maybe Fox studied Manning’s playoff résumé.  Maybe he had visions of Manning throwing a game-clinching interception like the one he threw to seal Super Bowl XLIV.  Maybe Fox understood the Broncos’ offense managed only 21 points against a Ravens’ defense that played the game on a short week.   

Regardless, Fox had two opportunities to allow Manning to win the football game and for reasons known only to him, and maybe GM John Elway, he refused to let him.  

And based on prior futility and diminished skills brought about by age and four neck surgeries, he shouldn’t have.  Actually, Fox probably did Manning a favor.  

Prior to the The Decision, Part II, Manning had a 9-10 record in playoff games.  His apologists often point out the fact that he played in the ultra-competitive AFC.  They suggest the Indianapolis Colts’ defenses were weaker than the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers teams from the middle of the last decade.  

However, few mentioned that Manning-quarterbacked teams had lost four playoff games as prohibitive favorites prior to Saturday.  They have now lost five.  That suggests a level of postseason underachievement rarely associated with one of the Top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history. In truth, Manning is one of the greatest fantasy league quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen.  But the playoffs are when weaknesses are exposed, and the fact is, Manning has done little throughout his career to assuage the belief he struggles under pressure.  

Perhaps Manning comes through when it counts in other aspects of his life.  But there is no question the only quarterbacking Manning that rises to NFL occasions is Eli.  

And John Fox knew it.   

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DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF OBSERVATIONS
What the pundits can’t or won’t say

Just because he stands tall and throws the football far doesn’t mean Joe Flacco is a Top-10 quarterback.  It’s enough to say he’s resilient, tough as nails and a winner.  

Here’s one for those who like stats: Manning averaged 6.74 yards per pass attempt against the Ravens Sunday.  Tim Tebow averaged 15.04 yards per pass attempt against the Steelers in the playoffs last year.

I’m always amazed how long a players’ reputation outlasts his effectiveness.  Cornerback Champ Bailey spent most of this season unchallenged but when the Ravens went at him, he crumbled.  The difference between Nnamdi Asomugha and Bailey is teams figured out Asomugha a lot sooner.

Colin Kaepernick can play, but he is the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers largely because of ego.  Opening day starter Alex Smith tried to take on a linebacker and wound up concussed.  And of course, Peyton Manning couldn’t accept relinquColin Kaepernick photo: Thearon W Henderson Getty Imagesishing offensive control to head coach Jim Harbaugh.

I couldn’t care less how many tattoos Kaepernick has and I love his game, but he needs to remove that beanie before press conferences.
Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the league, but he is now 1-2 in the last two postseasons because head coach Mike McCarthy thinks like Andy Reid.  Good quarterback play often leads to organizational arrogance.  

Including playoffs, Seattle Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll is now 61-58 for his career.  He made about five Rich Kotite-like decisions in the Falcons game that illustrate why.  

When Falcons’ head coach Mike Smith bolted down the sideline to call timeout with thirteen seconds remaining in the game, I couldn’t help but think terror got the best of him.

Top four this week (rankings disclaimer: my top four will always feature two AFC teams and two NFC teams):

 
1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) – Kaepernick seems disinterested in building his brand.
2. New England Patriots (13-4) – Once again, folks are forgetting this will be a football game.
3. Baltimore Ravens (12-6) – They outplayed the Patriots in this spot a year ago.
4. Atlanta Falcons (14-3) – Including the head coach, easily the worst of the final four.   

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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Manning photo: usatoday.com
Colin Kaepernick photo: Thearon W Henderson Getty Images