During a 2005 divisional playoff against the Steelers, with Pittsburgh clinging to a 21-18 lead, Colts cornerback Nick Harper scooped up a Jerome Bettis fumble with 21 seconds remaining and looked headed for the highly improbable score. But the night before, Harper was rushed to the hospital after his wife stabbed him in the knee in a domestic dispute, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger improbably was able to bring down Harper in the open field with one hand. Harper could have and should have scored a winning touchdown. But if that weren't bad enough, then Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed a potential tying 46-yard field goal attempt. Indianapolis -- and Manning -- lost.
During the 2000 wild-card round against Miami, after Indianapolis' defense allowed quarterback Jay Fiedler to drive the Dolphins 80 yards and throw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jed Weaver with one minute remaining, Vanderjagt missed what would have been a winning 49-yard field goal attempt in overtime. The Dolphins went on to win 23-17.
So when people are discussing Manning's 9-11 postseason record, they need to consider the full body of work, not just the final result. A few of these games, maybe more, easily could have gone the other way. For argument's sake, let's just say two had. Then, with a winning postseason record, the narrative about him is entirely different.
It's one play here, one play there, one other player doing his part to send his team on. Manning was the quarterback, the engineer, the most important player who failed to help lead his team to victory 11 times in the postseason. But there were times, clear ones, when he played well enough for his team to win. It hasn't always been him, despite the narrative.
Yet we continue to constantly use broad brushstrokes to paint a picture that is completely misleading and thoroughly incomplete. Starting Sunday against San Diego and continuing for as long as this postseason lasts, Denver wins and loses as a team. But a win or loss will not be hung on anyone as much as it will be hung on Manning.
One play from someone other than the quarterback can change everything -- games, legacies and all the conversation that follows.
Turn the lights back on? Candlestick Park supposedly was closed down in Week 16. San Francisco said its goodbyes then. But it's not out of the question that the 49ers could be saying hello to it again.
If the Saints upset the Seahawks in Seattle on Saturday and the 49ers beat the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, then the NFC Championship Game would be right back at Candlestick, a few weeks after San Francisco thought it was closing it down with a dramatic Monday night victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
It's the reason the 49ers warned their fans before the game against the Falcons to leave the stadium as intact as possible, to not pull out chairs, to leave it alone. San Francisco knew Candlestick needed to be preserved in the unlikely event of a return that now looks just a little more likely.
When the idea of returning to Candlestick Park was brought up to one 49ers official this week, he quickly texted back, "Let's just focus on Carolina, thanks."
Land of impatience: While other teams keep on shaking up their coaching staffs and organizations, the Patriots are shaking their heads. Since the day they hired Bill Belichick as their head coach in 2000, other NFL teams have hired 138 -- 138! -- head coaches.