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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The return of the War of the Mannings

The return of the War of the Mannings
By The Gambler [J.Gamble] Contributing Writer-Football Reporters Online
                   It’s the matchup everyone wants to see. If NFL big wigs, media, fans and Vegas vultures have their way, Peyton Manning will be meeting little brother Eli this season in the Super Bowl. Surely to be celebrated with flare and one of the largest watched Super Bowls in history, it would be an event that transcends sports. Historical. Unprecedented. Brothers from the royal quarterback family going head to head in an NFL Civil War. Both QB’s are already proven champions, so it is not far-fetched. Still, the chance of them meeting for all the marbles is hardly inevitable. In fact, the window of opportunity is closing. I’ll boldly say, it won’t ever happen.
Can’t blame the Manning’s for the unlikelihood of this classic meeting.  NFL parity, free agency and unexpected injuries have made predicting games a crapshoot. Father Time is the main culprit in this case. The brothers are two winding roads moving in opposite directions.
Peyton Manning is moving past his prime. He is still an assassin. He is still an MVP threat. He just isn’t as spectacular as he used to be. And it’s not like he will get better. Is that even possible ? Manning has taken a beating. Over a decade of holding firm in the pocket and enduring hits to the legs and ribs, has got to be taking its toll. Add left knee surgery, preceded by 160 consecutive starts, include the extra grind of intense playoff games, and what you have is a deteriorating legend. His body decline leads. The performance dip will follow.
Before you choke on your Colts skully, I know the 301yards Peyton passed for in a Game 1 victory over division-rival Jacksonville didn’t show much deterioration. Peyton has been the prototype quarterback. A gritty gunslinger who amasses chunks of real estate via airmail. In his prime [1999-2006], Peyton’s execution of the Indianapolis offense likened a video game. Last season, his team started 3-4. He put them on his back and swept the rest of the regular season. It was a respectable end to a season in which the Colts failed to win the AFC South for the first time since 2002.
But Peyton will be 34, and is in his 12th NFL season. Not many QB’s perform at an All-Pro level this late in their careers. In speaking with some of the league’s defensive players, one was bold enough to say that Peyton has lost a step and “a little zip off his passes.” If Manning is regressing, then so are the Colts.
The football fan in me says anything is possible. Eli Manning and David Tyree taught us that. An honest evaluation suggests the Colts are rife with question marks at key positions and will also need some help from the football Gods to end up in the Super Bowl. They still give me that Arena League feel.
Is the Colts defense good enough to stifle a  Pittsburgh, San Diego or New England squad ? Indianapolis spent all off season trying to bolster its defense. The D came through in Week 1 against a weak Jacksonville team, executing two fourth-quarter stops and holding the Jaguars to 12 points. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-drew still managed to rush for 97 yards on 21 carries. So the jury is still out.
Receiver is also a question mark. Will Anthony Gonzales [out with a bum knee] be able to fill Marvin Harrison’s huge shoes and be playoff -clutch ?
Your ideal Super Bowl squad is not a team that’s pass-happy, weak in the red zone, suspect defensively with an average ground attack, like Indianapolis .  
Brother Eli, on the other hand, has a new $97 million dollar contract, a vicious defense and multi-faceted offense.  Peyton has a new head coach in Jim Caldwell and new defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer. Eli has stability at the helm with Tom Coughlin and the brightest young GM in the game in Jerry Reese. It seems Peyton’s glory days are behind him and Eli is entering his prime.
In the past, Peyton’s had moments as a passer, Eli will never have. Especially with Eli playing his whole career in windy Giants Stadium and Peyton enjoying the luxuries of a weather-controlled dome. Nine Pro bowls. Mucho NFL  passing records, including most seasons with 4,000 passing yards [9]. In 2009, Peyton was listed by Sporting News as the No. 1 NFL Player. Big bro still gets big respect. What he doesn’t get is the satisfaction of being the top QB of the league’s top team. That was years ago. He was better then. So was the team around him.
Eli carries the reputation of being a winner who lacks big bro’s pocket savvy and golden arm. He has steadily improved each season as a passer. This season he’s adapted the no-huddle offense that Peyton made legendary, into his repertoire. Eli is proving he can sling it too, but his deeper value lies in his cool demeanor and penchant for clutch performances.
The Giants are a popular pick to return to their second Super Bowl in three seasons. They are positioned to contend for the next five years. Eli has the more complete team right now, but The G-Men are far from Super Bowl shoo-ins. New York needs to avoid another late season collapse and get consistent play from unproven receivers. Defensively they are elite. The ground game is money.
The Colts need an Adrian Peterson-type in the backfield, and further upgrades on D. Peyton can’t be expected to perform at the same level as his skills erode. The results could be disastrous and embarrassing. An aging Brett Favre looked bad last season, as he tried to split hairs with his passes, resulting in costly picks down the stretch for a playoff contending Jets team.
Imagine Peyton, who once described himself in a Sprint ad as “a six-foot-five, 230-pound quarterback…with a laser rocket arm”, at 38, trying to outsling younger QB’s and throw into double coverage. Can you say pick party ?
The NFL has seen some incredible upsets over the years. We’ve already seen how quickly the outcome of a game can change already this season with miraculous last second wins by the Broncos, Patriots and Chargers. They survived potential early-season upsets. The Colts will have to pull a few along the way. The Giants will have to avoid them. If not this season, maybe Peyton will catch lightening in a bottle a la John Elway and end his career with two improbable Super Bowl trips. And maybe the stars align so correctly that brother Eli tags along. You can hope for it. I’m saying don’t count on it.


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