Peyton Manning may be one of the greatest players ever to play the game of football. There is little evidence to dispute the previous statement, just as there is little to argue he will not one day be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Manning is the general on the field who can read defences, change the play call on the field if he doesn’t like what he sees, find the openings and create superstars out of so-so wide receivers.
The fact Manning has only been able to bring one Super bowl victory to the city of Indianapolis has often prompted the comparison with fellow super-stud quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, with discussions mainly about the importance of each QB to his team. Both quarterbacks have their own unique set of strengths and for anyone looking to build a team from the ground-up would give their right hand to have either as their centrepiece, but due to the overwhelming consistent success of the New England franchise, Brady has often been given the edge in the eyes of the fans.
In September 2008, Tom Brady was injured in the first quarter of a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The injury forced New England to put their star quarterback on injured reserve, forcing one of the Super bowl favourites to look to their back-up Matt Cassel to keep any hope of achieving that goal alive. Cassel was a seventh-round pick, who had been stuck with as the back-up quarterback despite rather inconsistent showings in pre-season. Needless to say Pats fans were not entirely expecting the former USC Trojan could get the job done.
Cassel proved a lot of his doubters wrong and performed admirably. He threw for nearly 3700 yards and 21 touchdowns and despite missing the playoffs, the Patriots had an eleven win season and Cassel’s competency at the position earned him a trade to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a high second-round pick, Cassel is now the incumbent starter for Kansas, and was the subject of interest of other teams after his stellar season. Cassel was allowed to be decent not only thanks to New England “genius” coach Bill Belichick, but by the team that had been assembled around him. He had Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to, was protected by a pro bowl calibre offensive line and had a defence that contained Richard Seymour, Adalius Thomas and Rodney Harrison that could get him the ball back.
Earlier this year it was announced as a result of surgeries on a bulging disk of Peyton Manning, he would most likely miss the entire season, but The Colts refused to put their talisman on the injured reserve and drafted in aging quarterback Kerry Collins, to go into the 2011 season, as they didn’t like what they saw in Manning’s backup Curtis Painter in pre-season. Manning had also signed a five-year, $90 million deal in late July, so Collins would hold the fort with what most assumed was a considerably talented Colts team until their franchise player was ready to come back.
In late October, the Colts placed Collins on injured reserve due to a concussion, ending his season. Collins, who had foregone retirement to sign with Indianapolis was ineffective in his three starts for the team, and passed for just two touchdowns in three losses. The team now turned to Curtis Painter, with only limited journeyman Dan Orlovsky left as another option.
Painter, when given time to throw has not been all that horrific. Building a rapport with receiver Pierre Garcon, he has been more effective than Collins. However, these positives have largely been off-set by his costly mistakes and tendency to turn the ball over when pressured. With Painter behind centre the team has still failed to produce a win, and lost for a ninth time on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, 31-7. Even Orlovsky saw the field in “garbage” time when Painter struggled terribly against a so-so Falcons pass defence. Humiliating “blow-out” losses are something Colts fans have had to become accustomed to over the last few weeks, including a 62-point smashing by the New Orleans Saints a fortnight ago. The effectiveness of the quarterbacks, which have replaced Manning can be gauged by the fact former pro-bowl WR Reggie Wayne, who has had many double-digit touchdown seasons with Manning at the helm, has pretty much dropped off the stat charts.
So why isn’t Painter able to have a Cassel type season and keep the Colts respectable? Indianapolis reached the playoffs nine straight times before Manning went down, and now they can’t win a game. Is it simply that Painter simply is nowhere near as good as Cassel or is there much greater evidence that Peyton Manning has been papering over the cracks of a team, which has been quickly deteriorating?
Defensive edge-rushers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, once lethal, are now aging. The offensive line is a mere shadow of its former self and the running game consists of the oft-injured Joseph Addai, Delone Carter and Donald Brown, none of which strike fear into the hearts of many defences. The Colts due to their continued success have been drafting low in the first-round for some time, and due to Peyton’s absence, we are finally able to see the result of it. Peyton is the difference between heaven and hell for this team.
The Colts are now bottom of the AFC South division, which they dominated for so long. They will have to watch on as the Houston Texans, the Colts’ long time whipping boys, take their opportunity to become the new alpha team in the division.