The G.O.A.T. Tag Is On The Table For Manning

This isn’t another Peyton Manning tongue kiss. It’s actually a challenge to get the former Colts legend to go beyond defying the odds this season. He’s already done that, but if he keeps it rocking and wins a Super Bowl with Denver, he can up the ante for future QBs who dare to be mentioned in the same breath.

Or he can lose to the Ravens on Saturday in the AFC Divisional game, take his ball and go home with certain dudes chirping about how he’s not the Don.

Saying Peyton Manning is probably the greatest QB of this generation is stating the obvious – to me at least. It’s like saying the Kardashian sisters dig brown-skinned celebrities with eight-figure salaries. His stat-sheet reads like a DMX rap sheet; extensive, accomplished and mind –boggling at times. He may also be the greatest conditioned QB in history, the way he just ate four neck surgeries, like What, What! …a KimYe type of bounce back, following the Kris Humphries disaster.

Former Colts owner Robert Irsay described Manning best: “It's kind of like when Bob Dylan comes along— you don't see someone like that very often.”

Now that the 36-year-old Manning has given us a comeback and talent-barrage for the ages, he has one more Mile High mountain to climb to solidify him as not only the best QB, but one of the most influential figures in NFL history.

Despite his unrivaled statistical accomplishments, Manning’s been criticized for playoff failures . Enter Tom Brady and his blinged-out, three-ring, well-manicured hands. Brady’s post-season success and his own gaudy stats make him an immovable road block in Manning’s quest for supremacy. Brady leads Manning 9-4 in head-to-head pop-offs and the Pats are once again a problem, with Brady trying to create some distance for himself in the exhausting best QB debate by nabbing his 4th Super Bowl.

Manning has a losing career playoff record of 9-10, and he’s not much of a road warrior, going 6-4 at home, 2-5 on the road and the 1-1 in neutral-site Super Bowls. Manning has thrown 436 touchdowns and only 209 interceptions in his career, but he's thrown 29 playoff TDs and 19 picks, for a playoff passer rating of 88.4, well below his career rating of 95.5.

In Manning’s defense, he’s rarely had the benefit of a prolific running game (especially once Edgerrin James left) and his supporting defenses were at best middle-of-the-pack. The weaknesses of his teams and the reliance on his right wing were magnified against well-balanced and coached playoff squads.

Detroit Lions OC Scott Linehan once said, “I guarantee you, if Peyton Manning was on the Pats, he would have won a minimum of three Super Bowls.”

Compelling stuff, but conjecture nonetheless. Manning can kill that noise, first by spoiling Ray Lewis’ retirement tour, and then by leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl, becoming the first QB to ever win one with two different teams.

An accomplishment of this nature, following Peyton’s whirlwind of events – starting with the neck fusion, being released by the Colts after 14 legendary years, the private work outs for suitors, the eager anticipation and the doubters – would put Manning in a class by himself as a regular and postseason QB, with a record that could stand as long and unbreakable as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

Manning began the season slow and humbly, like a snowball first going down a slope, trying to rebuild speed and purpose. Throwing three picks in the first seven minutes against the Falcons in his second game was rough. In typical fashion, he shook that off and eventually grew into a powerful avalanche, tossing for 4,659 yards, 37 TDs and a 105.8 QB rating. Manning took an 8-8 Denver club with the NFL’s 23rd ranked offense and turned it into a 13-3 team with the fourth best point-scoring posse in the game.

He proved Adrian Peterson wasn’t the only all-time great defying medical odds with sheer determination and a hellacious rehab process motivated by haters , and reminded short-memory big-mouths just how much he means to football.

Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy spear-headed Peyton’s Super Bowl win in ‘06. Dungy has often said Manning has that rare combination of skill, intelligence and determination that drives guys like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky

“He’s probably the hardest-working guy I’ve been around who has great ability,” said Dungy in his book The Mentor Leader. “Overachievers work hard because they have to. Peyton has rare talent, but chooses to push himself like he doesn’t. I’ve never seen a guy with so much ability and the dedication to match.”

Finding the challenge within the challenge is a Manning family staple. One that has brought Peyton’s father Archie success as an NFL pigskin-hurler back in the days, and made his younger brother Eli a two-time Lombardi Trophy Bad Boy. Peyton never doubted he would return, so while fans revel in his awesomeness, Manning is pushing himself to see what unchartered patch of grass he can kick aside next.

There’s no more doubt now. Manning with the Broncos, is better than Jordan with the Wizards. No more excuses either. This Broncos team is the most balanced squad Peyton has handled, boasting the league’s No. 2 defense to complement a prolific offense with nose-for-the-goal receivers in Demaryius Thomas (10 TDs) and Eric Decker (13 TDs). His backfield is experienced and multi-dimensional, with Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGhee combining for 1, 256 yards and 47 grabs.

We’ve seen QBs with comparable arms (John Elway). Others have been more mobile (Aaron Rodgers) and just as clutch (Brady). Manning’s workload and scope of responsibility is what separates him from other cats.

The most respected huddle commander in the NFL, Manning has almost full autonomy at the line of scrimmage.

Other QBs have called some plays, but he is the best to ever do it, utilizing dummy audibles, hand signals, disjointed snap counts and confusing the hell out of defenders. He is the master of the cat-and-mouse chess game, never choosing his play until the defense is set. He frequently audibles and alters protections, scanning the defense for potential weaknesses. When the ball is snapped, Manning sends defenders scrambling and ducking like Grandma Sissy in a rain storm on the way home from the salon, and continues his deceptive mastery with various pump fakes, play action madness, ball fakes and looking off defenders.

If Peyton truly is the best, he has to prove it in a couple more all-or-nothing shootouts at the NFL’s O.K. Playoff Corral. He has more ammo than he’s ever had and – all things considered – he’s everywhere we never been and better than he’s ever been. So those who say Peyton is playing with house money and has nothing to prove are lost in the sauce. The penetrating depth of his legacy hangs in the balance this post season.

While rookies gain favor for their immediate accomplishments, Manning leaves a history rich with pedigree, expectation and accolades. As a new jack, he was first to make QBing resemble a video game. Now, as an O.G, he’s giving a clinic on how experience, game comprehension, leadership and inspiration are equal to youth, legs and rocket arms.

It’s laid out for him, like man coverage on his best wide out: Execute the score. Secure the legacy. No excuses.

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