The Peyton Manning Story

Lies, damn lies, statistics and other things
Share |

At some point in the next week or two, and for an unprecedented fifth time, Peyton Manning will likely win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. For more than a few, it’s tough to argue that he hasn’t earned it: after missing a year with a scary-sounding neck injury, Manning led his new team, the Denver Broncos, to a 13-3 season and the top seed in the AFC while essentially tying career highs in completion percentage (His 68.6 mark just trailed his previous best of 68.8), yards (4,659/4,700) and YPG (291.2/293.8). On Saturday, for a (coincidentally?) fourth time, Manning threw two or more interceptions in a playoff loss. It was (less coincidentally) the eighth time in his (record) 12 postseasons that Manning failed to win his first playoff game.

This matters, if that’s the right word for it, but in at least one meaningful way it almost certainly won’t. Manning, like Brett Favre if not quite like Brett Favre, is known not just for his greatness but for the degree to which and the volume at which that greatness is celebrated. He has lost 11 postseason games, which is as many as any quarterback in history, while throwing game-turning interceptions in several playoff games: against the Patriots in an AFC championship, the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV and now the Ravens in this year’s divisional playoffs. It has not really impacted the perception of his genius at all.

In some ways, this is a good thing: a rare instance of sports media holding two contradictory opinions -- Manning as consummate field general; Manning as player who, for whatever reason, has not excelled in big games -- at once without heads exploding. But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.

Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, unequivocally the best football writer (on non-Andy Reid related topics) working, led the charge yesterday, explicitly blaming second-year Denver safety Rahim Moore for his mistake -- something Moore did himself in as upfront a way as can be imagined, while the verge of tears -- before acknowledging in passing that Manning’s interception played a role to the loss. 

“You can rightly blame Manning for that second interception, of course,” Barnwell writes. “But the game should never have even gotten to that point. Manning had performed well enough to put his team in an extremely advantageous position. His team promptly blew it. It seems worth separating the two.”

There’s a certain “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” thing at work here, though. Manning’s team explicitly and directly lost the game because they gave up the ball within their opponent’s field goal range, which happened explicitly because of a pass thrown by Manning which was -- by his own admittance -- a bad throw off a bad read. Barnwell essentially absolves Manning of the same thing for which he blames Moore. Whether or not Manning’s defense put him in a position to make a bad play -- and they did -- is irrelevant with regard to the actual very bad play that Manning made. Denver lost the game when their quarterback threw a bad pass at the worst possible time. That the quarterback happened to be Peyton Manning shouldn’t invert the narrative quite this much. If the quarterback hadn’t been Peyton Manning, it’s hard to believe it would.

***

Baseball’s statistics, advanced and un-, are uniquely valued in the sport, and unique in some other ways beside. They’re numbers and decimals on their own but, if taken together, they give us an understanding that’s surprisingly concrete, if not especially poetic. The clear distinction between “power” and “skill/speed” stats help provide a firm idea of the shape, size and style of the individual players that the numbers are supposed to represent; while they’re not there yet, it’s easy to imagine fielding stats like Ultimate Zone Rating eventually rounding out this understanding. The function that baseball statistics play as signals of value (current and predictive) in the noise of the sport -- even when the relative utility or relevance of the stats is being debated, or when curmudgeons fall back on “more like DORK, you blogger nerds” grumpiness -- suggest that we’re all more or less okay with statistics and in agreement on their import. It’s not like that in football.

Mostly, this is because football’s stats are not nearly as illuminating or intuitive as baseball’s. The counting stats are counting stats; the advanced stats are still opaque; quarterback ranking is impenetrable. More to the point, football statistics don’t tell you much about what a player looks like or plays like and -- because of the team-to-team and situational variations in terms of how different positions are used -- they really can’t offer anything other than a suggestion of how effective players are at the style of play that their team uses. Individual stats in football provide only marginally more insight than trying to determine the quality of a violin player using an individual piece of sheet music in an orchestra: you may get an idea, but that idea isn’t worth much without an understanding of role and context and conducting and a host of other obvious influences. Without that other understanding of the broader picture, it’s easy to misconstrue -- or completely misunderstand -- quality; it’s almost impossible to properly construe it. Football stats have some meaning, in other words, but they don’t mean much on their own.

So, what to make of Peyton Manning’s numbers, then? There’s his otherworldly consistency: the twelve 4000-yard seasons, 25-plus TDs in all fourteen of his NFL campaigns, the record twelve trips to the playoffs. These certainly suggest that Manning is the great player of his generation, and he has been rewarded with accolade after accolade -- at least four MVP’s so far, five first-team All-Pro selections, and hilariously high rankings on the type of lists that measure historical greatness to name a few -- that further shore up that impression. He has won passing titles and awards and honors and a great many football games, and so Manning is perceived as a winner.

And he is one, if not necessarily in the most important games of his career. In addition to those eight one-and-done postseasons and four multiple-interception postseason losses, Manning is just 9-11 in the playoffs. He has had supporting casts of varying quality during those seasons, but Manning’s sole successful Super Bowl run included some of his worst-ever playoff performances. His Super Bowl XLI postseason began with two legitimately putrid games -- a three-interception, one-touchdown stinker in a 23-8 victory over the Chiefs, followed by a 15-6 escape against the Ravens in the midst of a no-touchdown, two-pick shitstorm. He turned things around in the second half of an AFC Championship Game win against the Patriots, but neither his Championship Game nor Super Bowl stat-lines were especially inspiring.

Compare this, and even Manning’s regular season resume, to the work of Tom Brady. Brady, who is two years younger than Manning, has spent the second half of his career speaking the preferred language of the pundits in his cosmic argument against Manning. He has passed for more scores in a season; his 50 touchdowns in 2007 surpassed Manning’s old record by one. He has thrown for more yards in a season, 5235 to 4700. He has won three Super Bowls, yet still suffers a certain perception deficit relative to Manning. Brady has been on two fewer All-Pro teams and being chosen for three fewer Pro Bowls, already won 2 less MVP awards and is seen, in a way Manning never has been, as being a product of a coaching system and team culture. On the NFL Network’s list of the greatest players of all-time that I linked above, Brady is ranked 21st; Manning is eighth. He is also in many fewer television commercials, although that’s neither here nor there.

None of which is Manning’s fault, of course. But why are Brady’s achievements couched in the context of Bill Belichick’s genius and the Patriots’ “culture,” while Manning’s successes are seen as standing apart from the work done by coach Tony Dungy -- a significantly more successful coach before he joined forces with Manning than Belichick was when he brought Brady on board -- and Colts GM Bill Polian, who built four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and won six NFL Executive of the Year Awards? Even by the standards of the NFL’s usual resistance to common sense, this is strange.

***

Narrative, in the free-range “____ is a warrior” and “___ doesn’t have the heart of a champion” sense, is still the language of the NFL broadcast booth. But, in other venues and for some very good reasons, it has eroded under a wave of numbers. Even those who prefer that old emo-soothsaying stuff -- the most hardcore of fans and the hackiest of writers who have begun to cling on for dear life -- use numbers to make their cases. Football stats are inert in a way that baseball stats aren’t, but both can be used selectively to shore up an argument, pro or con. I did it above, as you probably noticed.

There’s not quite a stats-versus-emotion dynamic at work here so much as it’s a debate between different types of stats. Miguel Cabrera’s counting stats win him a Triple Crown and a Most Valuable Player Award; Mike Trout’s superior WAR (and steal totals, and UZR) loses out. ESPN’s tumid choir of Tebow-worshippers focus on his won-loss record as a starter, and leave out the other metrics attesting to his manifest not-goodness. And Peyton Manning cruises towards another MVP because of some numbers, while Adrian Peterson -- another comeback story, another player who made a massive individual impact on a team, and a player who had one of the best seasons for a running back in history -- may see his own numbers fall short. Peyton Manning has numbers that make his case; even Tebow has some numbers that make his. But Manning’s great advantage is one that the NFL’s narrative junkies have constructed over years. His numbers are fine, except when they’re not. But his story is a winner.

This is unfair in a basic sense, but the schism isn’t as daunting as it seems. Stat geeks should be able to acknowledge the relative worth of an evaluation not driven entirely by stats, or by the right stats. Narrative proponents should acknowledge that Manning’s greatness, while buttressed by very-good-to-great regular season stats, owes much to the fact that he’s likable, and that they’re choosing to overlook his postseason performance because of that. And this is all fine: Peyton Manning may sell us shitty pizza and make some bad passes at even-worse moments in the postseason, but he represents what a quarterback is supposed to represent. He stays late after brutal losses to congratulate fellow greats on a career well done. He really does make his teammates better. And he throws for a lot of touchdowns and wins a lot of games, although those are secondary to his harder-to-define greatness.

If that’s why we talk about him the way we do, there are worse stories we could tell. If only to acknowledge that we’re trying to tell a story as much as we’re talking football.


Share |

Comments

The quality of your articles and contents is great.Social KickStart

It should be noted that whilst ordering papers for sale at paper writing service, you can get unkind attitude. In case you feel that the bureau is trying to cheat you, don't buy term paper from it. http://www.rebelmouse.com/vitiligomiracle

Excellent Blog! I would like to thank for the efforts you have made in writing this post. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. I wanted to thank you for this websites! Thanks for sharing. Great websites! paleo restart

I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you! Erfahrungen mit DeutscheGarantie

As much as I think about food on vacation, I very rarely choose my holiday spot based on the dining options—although

top SEO company

Beaver says I also have such interest, you can read my profile here: Lovetraction Lines Free Download

It helped me to better understand another aspect of this topic. This article is something that will help me with my class assignment. Thanks More info

I think this is a really good article. You make this information interesting and engaging. You give readers a lot to think about and I appreciate that kind of writing. cost of loft conversions

It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this. packers and movers aundh

I need to much obliged. Great job ! You folks do an extraordinary blog, and have some awesome substance. Keep up the great work nationaldebtreliefreviews.com

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article MWR San Diego

But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.personalized shopping bags

Really impressed! Everything is very open and very clear clarification of issues. It contains truly facts. Your website is very valuable. Thanks for sharing. https://www.rebelmouse.com/oldschoolnewbodyreviewf4x

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.escort girls dubai

Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Each & every tips of your post are awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging, how to debt negotiation

Really impressed! Everything is very open and very clear clarification of issues. It contains truly facts. Your website is very valuable. Thanks for sharing Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. delhi to jaipur taxi

Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one. Keep posting. Thanks for sharing. ultimate4trading brokers

I found Hubwit as a transparent s ite, a social hub which is a conglomerate of Buyers and Sellers who are ready to offer online digital consultancy at decent cost.www.upstreamconnection.com/girlfriend-activation-system-tips-the-tom-cruise-look/

It has fully emerged to crown Singapore's southern shores and undoubtedly placed her on the global map of residential landmarks. I still scored the more points than I ever have in a season for GS. I think you would be hard pressed to find somebody with the same consistency I have had over the years so I am happy with that.android sip

I found Hubwit as a transparent s ite, a social hub which is a conglomerate of Buyers and Sellers who are ready to offer online digital consultancy at decent cost.locksmith in arlington

Good to become visiting your weblog again, it has been months for me. Nicely this article that i've been waited for so long. I will need this post to total my assignment in the college, and it has exact same topic together with your write-up. Thanks, good share.http://www.lexisnexis.com/Community/Developer/blogs/martindale-hubbell/archive/2015/09/07/whose-legal-responsibility-is-it-to-pay-the-costs-for-water-damage-restoration.aspx

I read this article. I think You put a great deal of exertion to make this article. I like your work.
agencias de marketing

Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.Geld verdienen online

Glad to chat your blog, I seem to be forward to more reliable articles and I think we all wish to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us. I will really appreciate the writer's choice for choosing this excellent article appropriate to my matter.Here is deep description about the article matter which helped me more.Salvation Diet Review

Going to graduate school was a positive decision for me. I enjoyed the coursework, the presentations, the fellow students, and the professors. And since my company reimbursed 100% of the tuition, the only cost that I had to pay on my own was for books and supplies. Otherwise, I received a free master’s degree. All that I had to invest was my time. Hva Er Binære Opsjoner

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! curly fluorescent bulbs

bad pass at the worst possible time. That the quarterback happened to be Peyton Manning shouldn’t invert the narrative quite this much. If the quarterback hadn’t been Peyton Manning, it’s hard to believe it would.
buy name necklace online

as not excelled in big games -- at once without heads exploding. But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.
how to find a millionaire mentor

holding two contradictory opinions -- Manning as consummate field general; Manning as player who, for whatever reason, has not excelled in big games -- at once without heads exploding. But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.
high ticket affiliate programs

I have bookmarked your website because this site contains valuable information in it. I am really happy with articles quality and presentation. top rated testosterone booster supplements

reason, has not excelled in big games -- at once without heads exploding. But it’s worth wondering, in the wake of Manning’s most recent defeat, why he’s above the law in this regard, and mostly beyond criticism.work from home blog

Barnwell writes. “But the game should never have even gotten to that point. Manning had performed well enough to put his team in an extremely advantageous position. His team promptly blew it. It seems worth separating the two
how to find a millionaire mentor

I’m excited to uncover this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read !! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site.link

Your articles and contents are encouraging. xmas hampers

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…SouthWest Auto Glass

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.hypnosis toronto

Really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us.Great site and a great topic as well i really get amazed to read this. Its really good.doesn't respond to diet or exercise

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this.. mounted on insulating material

I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one. Keep posting. Thanks for sharing. cheap traffic

And he is one, if not necessarily in the most important games of his career. In addition to those eight one-and-done postseasons.how can i lose weight fast

Each time I used to always check blog posts within the first hours in the break of day, because I like to get information increasingly more. Columbia electricians

I am overwhelmed by your post with such a nice topic. Usually I visit your blogs and get updated through the information you include but today’s blog would be the most appreciable. Well done!https://twitter.com/newspaper_cat/

Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one. Keep posting. Thanks for sharing. Movers and Packers

Wow! Such an amazing and helpful post this is. I really really love it. It's so good and so awesome. I am just amazed. I hope that you continue to do your work like this in the future also.gizmoaz.com/

Hello, I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject.
Dance Mat Typing BBC

I am impressed by the information that you have on this blog. It shows how well you understand this subject.click here

Great Information sharing .. I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post. http://www.einnews.com/pr_news/288823994/talk-to-his-heart-review-samantha-sanderson-s-women-dating-guide-examined

I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! eripuhastustööd

I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post.shaders mod minecraft 1.9