September 08, 2011
The end of Peyton Manning's(notes) 208-game consecutive-starts streak has us asking questions about consistency, longevity, and effectiveness. How hard is it to start more than 200 straight games for just one team, and do it from the first game of your NFL career? Frankly, it's just about impossible, especially in the modern era of player movement.
How hard is it to play over 200 games in your career for any number of teams, and put up a consistently elite level of performance all the way through? It's no easier, really. Eliminating artificial barriers like the "one-team" and "right from the start" subgroups doesn't mean much. You still have to be elite, when all is said and done.
Now that Manning's streak is out of the picture. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber(notes) has the league's best active consecutive-starts streak at 183 games. That's also the best all time among defensive backs.
Peyton's brother Eli has the best current streak among current NFL quarterbacks with 103 consecutive starts.
Let's take the consecutive concept out of it, and just deal with longevity during Manning's streak. From 1998 through 2010, 194 other quarterbacks have started NFL games. Brett Favre(notes) has the second-most starts in that time period with 205. After that, the list looks a little something like this:
Only 28 of the quarterbacks on that list (including Peyton) had all their starts with one team; Tom Brady is the next man up with 143 single-team starts. Of course, Brady missed most of the 2008 season after suffering a knee injury in the season opener.
To put how difficult it is to start multiple seasons for just one team into perspective, understand that in that same timeframe, just 10 quarterbacks have started 50 or more games for one team and no other — and not all of them are notable. There's all-time bust Tim Couch (59 starts for the Cleveland Browns from 1999 through 2003), possibly soon-bust Alex Smith (50 starts from 2005 through 2010), David Garrard(notes) (76 starts from 2002 through 2010 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that just released him), and Carson Palmer(notes) (97 starts for the Cincinnati Bengals, a team he apparently refuses to play for anymore).
When Manning took over at Tennessee in 1994, he replaced longtime baseball star (and then Vols quarterback) Todd Helton. When he took over at Indianapolis in 1998, he replaced Jim Harbaugh, who makes his NFL coaching debut for the San Francisco 49ers against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
I asked Harbaugh about Manning's streak on Wednesday. "It is amazing," Harbaugh said. "Somebody else mentioned that here [in San Francisco] — one of the writers. I know my last year with Indianapolis was 1997 so that really speaks volumes for the impact that he's had on the Indianapolis Colts, the longevity and tremendous performance."
Not that Pro Bowl selections are true indicators of player value, but this is pretty amazing. Manning has 11 Pro Bowl selections in that time period — only Ray Lewis(notes) and Tony Gonzalez(notes) can match it. Among quarterbacks in that timeframe, there's a three-way tie for second — Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb … with six each.
Here's a slightly better indicator of overall efficiency Football Outsiders' per-play and cumulative opponent-adjusted quarterback ratings. They show that Manning hasn't just been playing every game — he's been doing so at a level that is just about incomprehensible. There have been just three seasons in his entire career (including his rookie campaign, and none since 2002) where he wasn't first or second in both metrics. This is the football version of releasing Master of Puppets or Death Magnetic every time out, with no Load and Reload in the middle. Perhaps more than any other quarterback in the game's history. Peyton Manning has been the gift that keeps on giving. More's the pity when the Colts finally have to replace him for good; it'll make that Cliff Burton problem look relatively simple.
The best bets among young quarterbacks to possibly break Manning's streak and inch ever closer to Brett Favre's all-timer of 297 straight starts? Eli's obviously the next in line, with his 103 starts since 2004, but you'd also want to look at Joe Flacco(notes) (48 starts in three seasons), Philip Rivers(notes) (80 starts since 2004), Ben Roethlisberger(notes) (94 starts since 2004), and Brady (143 starts since 2000).
None of those guys look to be going anywhere anytime soon … of course, that's what we've said about Peyton Manning for over a decade, and now, things look to be in doubt. That's why these streaks are so very exceptional. Flacco is the best in line right now to break the record among quarterbacks starting consecutive games for one team right from his first game.
Right now, as great as he's been early on, Flacco can't even see Manning from where he currently stands. And he has that in common with most of the NFL.
(H/T To the always-awesome Pro Football Reference site)
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