Because it’s the playoffs.
It turns out Manning can’t only blame Tom Brady for his inability to win in the postseason, or at least against a team that puts up a rumor of a defense. As Sunday’s 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh proved, Manning just can’t put together a consistently good game when the season gets to one-and-done. This loss was the worst of them all — not only because it erases the glory of the Colts’ 13-0 start, but also because the Steelers (and the replay official) in the fourth quarter did about everything they could to give the game to Manning, and he wouldn’t take it.
You might say, wasn’t it Manning who rallied the Colts to a near-victory? Wasn’t it Mike Vanderjagt — whom Manning called not only an “idiot kicker,” but also a “liquored-up” idiot kicker, at the 2003 Pro Bowl after Vanderjagt ripped Manning (and Colts coach Tony Dungy) as too unemotional — who missed a game-tying 46-yard field-goal with 21 seconds to go?
Well, yes. But Manning, starting in college at Tennessee, has made a habit out of digging a huge hole early in big games, then rallying just enough to lose respectably and stay title-free.
(It’s been often noted that Tennessee won a national title the year after he left, under the comparatively ordinary Tee Martin, who has played all of three NFL games.)
And near game’s end against Pittsburgh, Manning, famous for getting the final say on play-calls at the line, made a dubious decision that nearly killed the Colts and also put Vanderjagt in the position of doing what only Adam Vinatieri seems able to do — make a 40-plus-yard field goal late in a tight game. (Ask Herman Edwards, Marv Levy and Marty Schottenheimer about that one.)
This is a good time to point out that for all the abuse the Indianapolis defense has taken over the years, in the playoffs it generally improves while Manning struggles. Look at some playoff scores: a 19-16 home loss to Tennessee in 1999; a 23-17 loss at Miami in 2000; a 24-14 loss at New England in 2003, and a 20-3 loss at New England last year. The defense had its troubles, particularly in stopping the run, but all things considered, it at least kept the score low enough to give Manning some help, which he hasn’t taken.
Maybe part of Manning’s problem is that he seems to treat playoff games with the same intensity as regular-season games. He only brings the level of urgency in a win-or-out situation when it’s late — such as when he waved the punting unit off the field near the end of the third quarter on a fourth-and-2 in Colts territory. Manning completed a pass to Brandon Stokely to get the first down. Yet where was that fire earlier in the game?
Maybe Vanderjagt is right that Manning — and Dungy — lack intensity. You mean Dungy really was going to punt on fourth-and-short, from anywhere, with his team down 21-3 late? (Lest you think I’m being heartless for going after Dungy and the Colts after the recent suicide of Dungy’s oldest son, I repeat: this tendency is not new.)
Perhaps that lack of intensity explains why Manning fails against a defense with some level of talent.
For all of Manning’s famed improvisational skills in play-calling before the snap, Manning loses all composure if the play doesn’t develop as planned after the snap. It’s not just that Manning is not very mobile.
It’s that the offense is based on timing, and any disruption of timing sends Manning into a panic. It also turns him against his teammates.
Rather than try to inspire his Colts when they’re behind, Manning tends to go into a shell and wonder why everybody else is screwing up.
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