Denver Broncos face comeback conundrum

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 20, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts man with the statistical plan


Now that he’s found his new home in Denver, Peyton Manning is set to make the biggest comeback of his career.
 
This time it won’t be from a 21-point deficit in four minutes, but it will be about the equivalent of that from a health standpoint. Manning has to come back from missing the entire 2011 season after having four neck procedures.
 
Will the arm strength still be there? Is he going to be able to take a hit? After playing 13 seasons in Indianapolis, how will he adjust to a radical change with a new team at age 36? The choice of Denver was an interesting one, as it roughly brings things full circle. John Elway was the quarterback that didn’t want to play for the Colts in 1983. He was traded to Denver and left his mark there. Now he’s sweet-talked the quarterback that wanted to play for the Colts for life into the Broncos’ organization.
 
The burning questions will be answered in the coming months, but assuming these things take care of themselves naturally, let’s look ahead to what should happen in 2012 with those other “comebacks.”

Simply put, Peyton Manning's next comeback should shake up the history of the NFL.

2012: Apocalypse Now for “The Myth of 47”

What’s the first thought on Captain Comeback’s mind? If you’ve been following along since 2009, you know where this one’s headed.
 
Bringing the two legends together hopes to create instant success for Denver. However, what it should be guaranteed to generate is national attention for the historical debauchery of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.
 
That’s going to be a bit strange when Manning is written into the Broncos’ media guide as having 47 fourth-quarter wins (“comebacks” as Denver likes to call them). See, they already have Elway as having 47, which they claim is the NFL record. Yet here comes Manning with 47 of his own, and he didn’t even play last season.
 
So who has the record now?
 
How does the Captain know Denver will come up with 47 for Manning? Well, the list of 45 games from the Colts’ media guide is a good start. Throw in the 2006 AFC Championship (Colts don’t count the postseason; Denver does), and that’s 46.
 
Finally, add this comeback against Jacksonville in 2008 that the Colts also don’t count, and you have 47. Down 24-14, Manning led the Colts to 10 points to tie the game, and they won on an interception return for a touchdown. How’s that any different than the two comebacks Denver counts for Elway that were won with a fumble return for a score, and a blocked field goal returned for the winning touchdown in overtime?
 
No matter what the Denver Broncos say, Elway never had 47 comeback wins. He did however have 47 comeback opportunities that ended without a win.
 
Dan Marino still holds the record with 36 fourth-quarter comeback wins (that includes playoffs). As was first written over two years ago, Peyton Manning is one behind with 35. But he failed on his next six chances, and then missed the entire 2011 season. For some time it looked like he may never chase another record again, but he should be ready to compete this season. And it’s not like John Fox teams don’t know anything about fourth quarter wins.
 
Top 5 in 4th Quarter Comebacks & GWD's
Rk QB 4QC Wins Rk QB GWD
1 Dan Marino 36 1 Dan Marino 51
2 Peyton Manning 35 2T Peyton Manning 46
3T Johnny Unitas 34 2T John Elway 46
3T John Elway 34 4 Brett Favre 45
5 Joe Montana 31 5 Johnny Unitas 40
 
Manning is actually tied with Elway for second-place with 46 game-winning drives (including playoffs). You can see this NFL.com article from Monday pointed out where Manning sits historically, but the common mistake of crossing over comebacks with game-winning drives happened again.
 
They are two similar but separate stats, which is another distinction that must be made.

The Times They Are a –Changin’

There has been progress made since 2009. You’ll notice the Elias Sports Bureau strictly uses “game-winning drives” when referencing these stats in their NBC telecasts. They are correct, as Elias has always been correct when it comes to their game-winning drive numbers. They also provided them for a top five ranking of game-winning drives since 1970 for the first time ever in the 2011 NFL Record & Fact Book.
 
The NFL Network uses the data provided at pro-football-reference.com when they reference fourth quarter wins on the air. Countless NFL writers have adopted the same data in their research, as it’s still the only unbiased, standardized source available.
 
But when it comes to the individual teams and league as a whole, there is still much to work through. If you believe the Broncos started this semantics mess during Elway’s career, then maybe it would be fitting they’d be the first team to fix it by acknowledging there are two different stats and tabulating them the same way for everyone.
 
If they can’t see their mistakes when it comes time to publicize the career of Peyton Manning the Bronco, then we have another problem for the next generation.
 
Something has to change. Manning’s presence in Denver is going to force that change.
 
Oh, he’s also going to try and get the Broncos back to the Super Bowl too. But from a pure historical standpoint, Elway bringing in Manning should be the final nail in the coffin to Elway’s clutch on the record for fourth quarter comebacks.
 
The two can share a beer and laugh afterwards, but let it be known that this monumental signing by Denver could be the linchpin in league-wide standardization of a stat the Broncos made famous during Elway’s career.
 
And when the presumed future record holder is someone that can’t even crack a top 10 list of clutch quarterbacks, then you know just how much of a negative influence the lack of standardized statistics have had for the legacies of these players.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Elway’s sales pitch to Pat Bowlen: “Peyton has led us into temptation, and will deliver us from Tebow.” You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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