Meet Mr. October, Peyton Manning

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 08, 2004



 
Before the first football flies in anger this NFL season, the Cold, Hard Football Facts demand that one thing be said: Peyton Manning is not the best quarterback in the NFL. And he's certainly not the best player.

Oh, sure, every "pundit" places him atop both lists: Athlon Sports, the Sporting News, the Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard, and CBS Sportsline's Pete Prisco were among those that pegged Peyton the NFL's best player in preseason previews. Even the eminent ESPYs named Manning the league's top talent.

Why the widespread acclaim? Apparently these authorities place a premium on early season football and turn a blind eye to the more decisive games played late in the season. That's the word we get from a more authoritative pigskin power: the Cold, Hard Football Facts.

According to this shaman of gridiron acumen, Manning is the Mr. October of modern pro football. The title Mr. October comes with some dignity if you're baseball's Reggie Jackson, and you reserve your most heroic feats for the World Series. It means very little when Manning lights up the NFL in October, only to wilt like boiled bacon in January. In fact, it seems to this authority, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, that any effort to shower him with "best in the league" praise is as wayward as one of Manning's pass attempt in the playoffs.

Last season provided a perfect case study. Manning played his best football in the easy-going days of October, compiling an eye-popping passer rating of 107.5 over the course of the month. His glorious autumnal fireworks led to a critical mass of positive press that carried him to NFL co-MVP honors (and that seems to have carried over into preseason previews). These honors came despite the fact that his play declined as the season wore on. Manning actually threatened to overturn six years of late-season futility with two great playoff performances this past January. The fact that these long-overdue performances came against weak opponents in ideal conditions matters little to Manning worshippers, deprived as they are of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.

But as sure as the sun sets in the west, Manning returned to his frozen form on a snowy January day in New England when he played his single worst game of the season. The facts in this instance are not only cold and hard, they're deformed and grotesque:

* 23 for 47 (48.9%), 1 TD, 4 INTs, 237 yards, 35.5 passer rating

Only twice in Manning's entire career has he played so poorly. Not surprisingly, both games came late in the season. In December 2001, he rang up a miniscule 35 passer rating in a 41-6 loss to Miami. The following season, in a January 2003 playoff game, he posted the single lowest passer rating of his entire career, 31.2, in a 41-0 loss to the New York Jets.

These are not isolated events. In fact, this annual swoon is par for the course at Manning Country Club. Prying open the window of truth with our handy fulcrum, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, we looked at Manning's cumulative passer rating every month of his entire NFL career. It confirmed what we long suspected: Manning plays his best ball in October. He plays his worst ball in the playoffs.

Peyton Manning's month-by-month passer ratings:

(bold indicates worst month each season; italics the best month)
 
 
1998-99
1999-00
2000-01
2001-02
2002-03
2003-04
Career 
W-L
September
52.1
85.1
109.1
88.9
93.1
103.7
87.1
12-8 (.600)
October
81.1
97.4
95.0
92.4
80.2
107.5
92.1
13-9 (.591)
November
71.8
92.8
87.5
79.5
99.0
90.6
86.2
13-13 (.500)
Dec.-Jan.
85.1
88.2
90.2
79.4
83.4
100.9
86.9
15-12 (.555)
Playoffs
n/a
60.9
82.0
n/a
31.2
106.4
82.1
2-4 (.333)
passer ratings are based upon the cumulative statistics of every game Manning played that month
* regular season only

The Cold, Hard Football Facts are clear:

  • Manning has posted his highest cumulative passer rating in October
  • Manning has posted his lowest cumulative passer rating in the playoffs
  • Five times in six years, Manning played his worst football in December, January, or the playoffs.
  • Only once did Manning reverse the trend, playing his best ball late and worst ball early. That was in 1998, his first year in the league
  • In a career spanning 102 games, Manning's three worst performances came in December and January (two of them in the playoffs).

So, is Peyton Manning the best in the league? Only, it turns out, in October.


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