In the Divisional Round, Peyton Manning wasn’t at his best, but he was good enough. In the Conference Championship Game, Peyton Manning wasn’t at his best, but he was good enough. In the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning wasn’t at his best, but he was good enough.
Thank you, Denver defense.
As has been pointed out on this site and in countless other media outlets, Peyton Manning (and to a large extent Brock Osweiler when he was taking snaps) was merely a placeholder for a team that let its defense do nearly all its dirty work. Of course, for a starting quarterback, a playoff win is still a playoff win, and with his three victories in the 2015 playoffs, Manning inserted himself three times into the list of top ten oldest quarterbacks to win a playoff game.
The list below shows the oldest quarterbacks to win a playoff game, post-merger (thank you Pro Football Reference). (Methodological note – the linked site shows all quarterbacks with five or more passing attempts. If there was a starting quarterback who won a game making four or fewer passing attempts, which I could not find, he is not included on this list.)
1. Brett Favre, 40 years 99 days (January 17, 2010)
15-24, 234 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT.
Favre’s last playoff victory was one for the ages, one in which he came within one touchdown pass of tying his postseason high in a blowout victory. Of course, had he not thrown a horrible across-the-body interception the following week against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game he could have added his name to this list one or even two more times.
2. Peyton Manning, 39 years, 320 days (February 7, 2016)
13-23, 141 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.
Manning’s greatest highlight of the game was kissing Papa John immediately following the victory.
3. Peyton Manning, 39 years, 306 days (January 24, 2016)
17-32, 176 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Manning’s only game in the 2015 playoffs in which he had a touchdown pass, the Broncos were only able to celebrate victory once New England failed to convert on its two point attempt in the final seconds.
4. Peyton Manning, 39 years, 299 days (January 17, 2016)
21-37, 222 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INT
This was Manning’s only game in the 2015 playoffs in which he didn’t turn the ball over, possibly the reason the Broncos were able to pull out a victory in this hard fought game.
5. Johnny Unitas, 38 years, 233 days (December 26, 1971)
AFC Divisional Round, Baltimore Colts (20) vs. Cleveland Browns (3)
13-21, 143 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
As is the theme for many of the games on this list, Unitas was a serviceable quarterback in this game while the Colts defense allowed just 165 total yards and forced five turnovers in Cleveland.
6. Earl Morrall, 38 years, 228 days (December 31, 1972)
7-11, 51 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Despite going 7-11, Morrall was replaced later in this game by Bob Griese, who was the starting quarterback two weeks later in the Super Bowl when the Dolphins clinched the NFL’s only perfect season.
7. Earl Morrall, 38 years, 221 days (December 24, 1972)
6-13, 88 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Morrall wasn’t much more effective one week earlier against the Browns, but was good enough to at least not be replaced and advance the Dolphins in the playoffs.
8. John Elway, 38 years, 217 days (January 31, 1999)
18-29, 336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
The final game of Elway’s career featured just a single touchdown pass but 336 passing yards in an otherwise largely uninterested Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons.
9. John Elway, 38 years, 203 days (January 17, 1999)
13-34, 173 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Elway’s counterpart Vinny Testaverde (no spring chicken himself) had over twice as many passing yards and nearly three times as many completions, but Elway threw 0 interceptions to Testaverde’s 2 and the Broncos as a team didn’t turn the ball over at all, compared to 6 times for the Jets as a team.
10. Kurt Warner, 38 years, 202 days (January 10, 2010)
29-33, 379 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT
One of the few truly great quarterback performances on this list, Warner was nearly perfect in this game, in which the Cardinals raced to a 17-0 lead, nearly gave it up in the fourth quarter, and won it in overtime just over a minute in on a fumble return.