After missing the 2011 season due to a neck injury and subsequent surgery, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has to know that his career is at a crossroads. Whether he retires, stays with the Colts (unlikely) or moves on to another team, Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game.
Hall of Famers Joe Montana and John Unitas fill the No. 1 and No. 2 slots, while New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has moved slightly ahead of Manning in the No. 3 spot. Manning ranks just ahead of former Denver Broncos legend John Elway, who is fifth.
Manning earned his spot among the game’s greats when he led the Colts to a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. That victory gave him his validation, but his all-around play had been dominant long before he earned his ring.
Manning changed the way game plans had been established. After the 1970s, play-calling responsibilities had been taken away from most quarterbacks. Offensive coordinators called plays no matter how talented the quarterback was until Manning was drafted in 1998. However, Manning would have none of it.
He convinced his coaches that he knew as much about the Colts’ offense as they did and he was in a better position to call plays because he was looking right at the defense. Colts head coach Tony Dungy and offensive coordinator Tom Moore eventually agreed with him.
Manning would often wait for the defense to adjust before making the play call. That allowed Manning to make the perfect play call.
The result was often sensational. Manning is a career 64.9 percent passer, and he was at his best in the 2004 season. That year, Manning completed 336-of-497 passes for 4,557 yards with 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Colts had a sensational offense that season, scoring 522 points, 76 points more than the San Diego Chargers, who ranked second.
Manning’s focus throughout his career has been winning. Since he played in an an era where the passing game dominated, he became one of the best passers to play the game. Had he played in a more conservative era that depended on the running game — like his father Archie Manning did with the New Orleans Saints — he would have played a more conservative game.
Manning will have to show that his neck is healthy and that he is fully capable of absorbing heavy-duty contact if he is going to come back. If he passes all of his medical exams, Manning will almost certainly be the well-prepared, razor-sharp quarterback he has been throughout his career.
Writing one more chapter and getting back to a championship level may allow him climb even higher in the all-time quarterback rankings.
Pro Football Reference — Peyton Manning
ESPN — Manning finally wins big one, leads Colts to Super Bowl