By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Oscar-Award Winning Potentate (@footballfacts)

The Denver Broncos entered the big stage at Gillette Stadium under the primetime lights Sunday night on pace to score more points, and more points per game, than any team in the history of football.

The Great Peyton Manning himself had tossed a mind-blowing 34 TDs in just 10 games, a pace for a record 54 in a single season. He led the NFL in all our measures of passing efficency: Real Passing YPA, Real QB Rating and Offensive Passer Rating.

Denver exits its game against the Peyton nemesis New England Patriots with a chilling reality: the proclaimed Greatest Offense of All Time and its Hall of Fame QB underperformed and misfired badly in the frosty arctic elements, and against a wounded and merely above-average defense.

Given the circumstances, Manning’s mis-performance Sunday night might have been the worst effort of his career.

The fact that this frighteningly ineffective performance came on the heels of 10 straight games of nearly unstoppable success (they even scored 33 points in their lone previous defeat) sets this loss apart as especially shocking.

Denver's speeding bullet offense looked like it suddenly hit a concrete bunker. The reality is that very little was standing in Denver's way Sunday night: just a strong wind, a little chill and a good but not particularly great defense.

The statistical paradox between expectation, opportunity and result was historically odd and incongruous. Here’s why Sunday night’s mis-effort might be the worst game of Manning’s career:

A nearly unstoppable Denver team was handed a nearly unlosable situation in a box with a pretty bow. 

Denver enjoyed a nearly 100-percent win probability (according to AdvancedNFLStats) for much of the first half and into the second.

Yet Manning and the Broncos found a way to give it all away. When the Greatest Offense of All Time needed just mediocrity in the second half and overtime, it couldn't even give us that.

The Denver defense did not cover itself in glory. And a special teams miscue in overtime handed the Patriots the game-winning points deep into overtime. But the biggest reason the Broncos gave the game away was because Manning was utterly ineffective managing the passing game and moving the ball downfield, even as the Denver ground game ran over the Patriots with impunity.

In fact, Manning’s 4.17 yards per pass attempt (3.47 Real Passing YPA) makes it his least-effective downfield passing effort since his rookie season of 1998 with the 3-13 Colts.

The mis-performance was set even more sharply in disappointing relief by the fact that his counterpart and foil Tom Brady was nearly flawless despite the situation, his team's three straight turnovers to start the game, the 24-point deficit or the elements:

  • 34 0f 50, 68%, 6.9 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, 107.4 rating

The historic ineptitude of Manning’s performance is clear when you consider the context of the situation. Manning and the Broncos:

  • Sported a 9-1 record and boasted the highest-scoring offense in NFL history (39.8 PPG).
  • Were staked to an early 17-0 lead against the bumbling Patriots, who fumbled the ball away on each of their first three drives.
  • Led 24-0 at halftime.
  • Ran the ball at will, 48 attempts for 280 yards – among the most rushing yards in a losing effort in the entire history of the NFL.
  • Faced a good but not particularly impressive New England defense, which entered the game No. 7 in scoring (19.9 PPG) and No. 8 in Defensive Passer Rating.

Denver was all but guaranteed a win, barring anything short of one of the great comebacks, or great collapses, in NFL history.

But in a sport where games are won and lost on the back of passing efficiency, only one of the most dismally inefficient passing performances of Manning’s career kept the Patriots in the game.

You know how it ended: the proclaimed Greatest Offense Ever produced just a single score over nearly three full quarters of play. The Patriots, meanwhile, outscored the Greatest Offense Ever an incredible 31-0 in the first 22 dizzying minutes of the second half. The Broncos lost, 34-31, in overtime, a muffed punt by the Denver return team handing New England an easy game-winning field-goal opportunity.

It was the latest in a long series of frustrating losses at the hands of New England, the kryptonite to Manning’s Superman everywhere else.

The Broncos needed only an incompetent Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne-like passing performance to piece together enough offense to hold on for the win. They got something worse than incompetent from Manning.

They got the ugliest mis-performance of his career.

Here’s Manning’s effort against the Patriots, both Sunday night and throughout his career, put in statistical context.

Manning's Mis-Performance by the Numbers

.285 – Manning’s career win percentage against Brady’s Patriots (4-10).

.450 – Manning’s career win percentage in the postseason (9-11).

.694 – Manning’s career win percentage in the regular season (163-72).

1 – Number of 500+ point offenses Peyton Manning has led in his illustrious 15 seasons as an NFL starter. The 2013 season will likely be his second.  

3.47 – Manning’s Real average per pass attempt Sunday night (38 dropbacks, 132 net passing yards). Real Passing YPA includes the impact of sacks. It ranks No. 337 of 352 team-game performances in 2013, according to our Big Boards at CHFF Insider.

4 – Number of 500+ point offenses Tom Brady has led in his illustrious 12 seasons as an NFL starter. New England is the only franchise in NFL history to score 500+ in four different seasons.

4.17 – Peyton Manning’s average per pass attempt (36 for 150 over nearly five full quarters) Sunday night. It was the second lowest average of his career, surpassed only by the 3.33 YPA (42 for 140) he produced against Miami back in his rookie season of 1998.

5.83 – Denver’s average per rush attempt Sunday (48 for 280).

6 – Number of times since the Super Bowl Era (since 1966) a team has rushed for 280+ yards and lost. Teams that rushed for 280+ had gone 139-5 (.965) before Sunday. (Source:

8 – Number of times in franchise history the Patriots surrendered more than 280 rushing yards. They lost all eight of those games. The Patriots are 1-11 all time when surrendering more than 260 yards on the ground.  

8-2 – Manning's record when his teams rush for 200+ yards in a game. Both losses have come against the Patriots: 27-24 in Week 1 2004 (42 for 202); and 34-31 again Sunday (48 for 280).

9-4-1 – Record against the spread of Tom Brady Patriots vs. Peyton Manning teams (7-4-1 vs. Colts; 2-0 vs. Broncos). Put another way, the public habitually overvalues Manning’s teams and undervalues Brady’s teams.

The harsh, inalterable reality of Manning’s underperformance vs. public sentiment is a fairly undeniable indication that he’s overvalued relative to Brady as a quarterback.

10-4 – Record straight up of Brady Patriots vs. Manning teams (2-0 vs. Manning’s Broncos; 8-4 vs. the Colts).

14 – Career losses Manning has suffered against the Patriots since his rookie season of 1998 (7-14).

15 – Career losses Manning has suffered against the four teams that comprise the AFC South since his rookie season of 1998 (44-15 vs. Colts, Jaguars, Texans, Titans). Manning spent nine straight season (2002-2010) playing in the AFC South.  

16.9% – Manning career losses that have come against a single team, the Patriots (14 of 83).

32.0 – Points per game the Broncos must score over the remaining five weeks to tie the 2007 Patriots for most points in a single season (589).

48 – Denver rush attempts Sunday night, the most in any game with Manning at quarterback. Manning's Colts ran the ball 43 times (for 160 yards) in a 38-14 win over Eli Manning's Giants in 2010; Manning's Broncos ran the ball 45 times (for 163 yards) in a 34-17 win over the Ravens late last season.

52.8% - Manning’s completion percentage Sunday night, his second most inaccurate performance in a Denver uniform. 

77 – Manning’s total passing yards entering the the fourth quarter, before his game-saving drive made it 31-31.

134 – Manning’s total passing yards at the end of regulation. Only three times since 1998 had Manning played a complete game and thrown for fewer yards: 122 vs. Jacksonville in 2005; 125 vs. Cleveland in 2008; 132 vs. Buffalo in 2000.

254-14 – Record of NFL teams (.948) since 1940 when rushing for 280+ yards in a game. (Source:

275 – The most rushing yards by a team with Manning at QB before Sunday. Manning's Colts rushed for 275 yards (on 39 attempts) in a 41-10 win over the Bears in 2004.