By the end of Peyton Manning’s big NFL return in Denver this Sunday night, the four-time MVP could walk away with another NFL record for his resume.
No, it’s not the 400th career touchdown pass or record-setting 64th game with at least 300 yards passing. This is something bigger when you are talking about a quarterback’s legacy.
If Peyton Manning’s comeback to the NFL includes a fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, which would be the 36th of his career, he would tie Dan Marino for the all-time record.
Yes, Marino, and not Manning's new boss John Elway, who for years has been known as the NFL’s Comeback King with 47 comeback wins, according to the Broncos. Whenever it happens for Manning, the record-tying and record-breaking moments will come in a Denver uniform.
Talk about irony.
Let's set the record straight
The comeback record is an unofficial record and one for which numerous PR staffs don't have the same stats.
The short answer is that Denver counted games for Elway as comebacks when the Broncos never trailed in the fourth quarter. But let's agree that no deficit means no comeback. On the other hand, the Dolphins counted true comebacks for Marino, which always shortchanged him. Since the NFL has not made the comeback stat standardized and official, there's no set standard.
I created a standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives; the latter being a separate, but similar stat to count those games where the score was only tied and the offense scored the winning points. The Elias Sports Bureau uses the exact same criteria for game-winning drives that I use, but they do not look at comebacks for quarterbacks.
It’s an impressive group. Johnny Unitas held the record from 1963 until 1999, when Dan Marino surpassed him with his 36th comeback on Jan. 9, 2000. So with Manning right there, this record looks to change about as often as the Pittsburgh Steelers change head coaches.
Will Manning tie the record Sunday? Hard to say when you are talking about something that’s happened 35 times in his 227 career games (15.4 percent). He has actually lost his last six opportunities, which date back to Super Bowl XLIV.
Dan Marino (1994) and Tom Brady (2009) had comeback victories in their return games to the NFL after missing the previous season, so maybe we’ll be treated to a third.
This one will carry the most historical significance, even if that history is undergoing heavy revisionist work.
But is he still the old Peyton?
Maybe you are sick of Tim Tebow-style comebacks and just want to see consistent quarterback play for all four quarters in Denver. The Broncos want that too, but it will not be the easiest transition for Manning.
Behind Tebow last season, the Broncos had the most run-heavy offense in the league, running the ball on 53.7 percent of their plays. A big part of that was Tebow on both designed runs and scrambles.
Tebow is gone, but out of the 41 teams since the 1970 merger to lead the league in run ratio, none of them featured an individual 4,000-yard passer the following season. Only two teams passed for over 4,000 yards collectively.
However, this is no ordinary addition at quarterback. This is Peyton Manning; one of the most prolific passers ever. But there are some legitimate questions about a 36-year-old quarterback who missed an entire season after four neck operations.
While Manning’s neck isn't the issue, there's concern over the slow nerve regeneration causing a loss of power in his throwing arm, which could obviously impact the velocity and accuracy of his passes.
In the preseason, Manning had a few passes tipped at the line, which may be a sign of this issue, but in watching the Colts for years, Manning never had the biggest cannon for an arm. Somehow, the passes still often get there, just as they did this preseason in Denver.
Manning’s ability to read defenses and run the offense is still going to be the best in the league, so any physical limitations can be matched by what he provides mentally.
But it’s not realistic to expect the recent Manning from Indianapolis, the guy throwing over 600 passes to single-handedly carry an offense. In Denver, Manning will have the best running game he’s had since 2006, and when he’s had a capable running game, he has shown he will use it while dominating in the play-action game.
His new weapons include third-year wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who are bigger than the receivers Manning had with the Colts. Each has yet to register 60 career receptions. Manning completed at least 80 passes to at least one receiver every season in Indianapolis. Expect career seasons in catches and yards from Thomas and Decker, and they will be the preferred red zone targets as well.
Manning does have familiar faces with Brandon Stokley and tight end Jacob Tamme. It may not be the most stacked offense in the league, but Manning has always found a way to maximize the talent around him, and that should definitely continue in Denver.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Will he throw for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns? Not likely. Though should he throw for 3,800 yards, 30 touchdowns, while getting the most out of a smaller number of throws than he had with the Colts, then the 2012 Broncos are going to have a lot of success and should have no problem winning the AFC West again.
This is still Peyton Manning, and you are talking about a quarterback with 11 seasons of double-digit wins and playoff appearances. The only two times he has missed the playoffs is when he had a defense that allowed the most points in the league. Denver will be much better than that.
More than any other quarterback, Peyton Manning makes a whole team better. Ahead or behind by 20 points, you are never out of a game with him. When Manning inevitably wins “Comeback Player of the Year” at season’s end, that award will never have had a more deserving recipient.
Let’s just make sure he gets that deserved title of “NFL’s Comeback King” as well.
Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.
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