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Which QB does best job spreading ball around in passing game? 02.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Piggybacking on a column we did last year about Tom Brady‘€™s ability to work in new receivers and spread the ball around — and with another full season in the books — we figured we should take another look at some of the league wide numbers when it comes to ball distribution in the passing game.

Using the 250-catch barometer as the mark for involvement, three over-30 veterans continue to set the standard when it comes to getting everyone involved in the passing game, as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have managed to make stars out a variety of pass catchers on the way to record-setting seasons.

Using numbers culled from Pro Football Reference — which utilizes stats dating back to 1999 — the three are head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacking field when it comes to finding equilibrium in the passing game:

- Since 2001, Brady has completed at least 250 passes in the regular season to four different pass catchers over the course of his 13-year career as a starter: Wes Welker (563), Deion Branch (328), Troy Brown (323) and Kevin Faulk (310). Providing they stay healthy — and, in the case of Julian Edelman, return for 2013 — two more receivers could be added to the mix: Rob Gronkowski had 39 catches in an injury-shortened 2013 season, bringing his total of receptions via Brady to 223. And his 105 catches in 2013 boosted Edelman to 166 career receptions from Brady.

For those of you asking about guys who just missed out on the 250-catch mark with Brady, two jump off the page: one, Randy Moss caught 192 passes from Brady while the two were together in New England, including 98 catches in 2007 and 83 in 2009. And two, Aaron Hernandez finished with 166.

- In that same span, Manning has completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Reggie Wayne (779), Marvin Harrison (677) and Dallas Clark (387). Depending on how long he plays, Denver’€™s Demaryius Thomas could also be part of that group as well — he has 185 catches from Manning over the last two seasons, and could reach 250 in 2014 if he and the quarterback can both stay healthy.

To be fair to Manning, that time frame of 2001-2013 does cut off the first three seasons — from 1998 through 2000 — of his career. As a result, some of his early numbers aren’€™t included, particularly the formative years with Harrison, who had 276 regular-season catches with the Colts in that span. Our cutoff also means the work of an excellent pass-catching back like Edgerrin James goes unrewarded. He caught 230 passes from Manning from 2001-2005 before he departed Indy for the Cardinals. In all, James ended up catching a total of 355 passes from Manning while the two were together from 1999-2005.

- While Brady and Manning have impressive totals, when it comes to finding a variety of targets, they’€™re nowhere near Brees. When you combine his work in San Diego and New Orleans, the 35-year-old has complied at least 250 passes to six different receivers: Marques Colston (605), Lance Moore (346), Jimmy Graham (298 over the last four seasons), Reggie Bush (294), Pierre Thomas (284) and LaDainian Tomlinson (254). And a seventh — Darren Sproles — can hit 250 receptions from Brees in 2014. He’€™s already at 235 catches and counting.

When it comes to the next generation, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to connect with six different pass catchers for at least 250 receptions. Among the quarterbacks who have been in the league for 7-10 seasons, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has Greg Jennings (324) and Jordy Nelson (252), but just missed out when Donald Driver (241) called it a career. However, his two wild cards are free agents James Jones (216) and Jermichael Finley (214) — if they both return and are healthy, Rodgers is seemingly a lock to get four pass-catchers to 250-plus receptions.

Ben Roethlisberger also has a good chance of getting to four — he’€™s completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Hines Ward (513), Heath Miller (420) and Antonio Brown (250), and could make it four if free agent Emmanuel Sanders (146) ends up sticking around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Atlanta’€™s Matt Ryan has three, having connected for 250-plus with Roddy White (520), Tony Gonzalez (383) and Harry Douglas (205). And New York‘€™s Eli Manning has Hakeem Nicks (306) and Victor Cruz (241) — he appears to have just missed with Plaxico Burress (244) and Steve Smith (213).

As for the quarterbacks who have between two and five full years in the league, Detroit’€™s Matthew Stafford has found tremendous success with Calvin Johnson (353 catches from Stafford), but Brandon Pettigrew (215) and Nate Burleson (154) are also within hailing distance of the 250-catch mark, providing Burleson somehow makes it back to Detroit. In addition, Indy’€™s Andrew Luck has Wayne (145), T.Y. Hilton (133) and Coby Fleener (78), while Cincinnati’€™s Andy Dalton has benefitted from working with AJ Green (256), Jermaine Gresham (165) and Andrew Hawkins (85).

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John Elway can really relate with Peyton Manning in Super Bowl misery 02.03.14 at 1:59 pm ET
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EAST RUTHERFORD — Peyton Manning said he played a great football team. John Elway said his team made too many mistakes. They’re both right and they can now relate with one another on a whole new scale after the Broncos were humiliated by the Seahawks, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Never had a team jumped out to such a big lead in a Super Bowl as did the Seahawks when they grabbed a 36-0 lead in the third quarter.

“It was embarrassing,” Wes Welker said, perfectly summing up Denver’s day in the swamps of Jersey.

Truth is, the game felt like garbage time from the moment Manning and his center Manny Ramirez weren’t on the same page and the opening snap of the game sailed into the end zone for a safety.

“I think we played a great football team,” Manning said. “We needed to play really well in order to win, and we didn’t come anywhere close to that. We weren’t sharp offensively from the very get-go. The turnover on the first play of the game to give them a safety is not the way you want to start a game. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get much going after that. Give Seattle a lot of credit. They are an excellent football team, and they caused a lot of our mistakes. At the same time, we just didn’t play well.

“They have an excellent defense. Certainly, to get behind and give them the lead, played into their hands. That’s what they do to a lot of teams. I think when you get the lead on a team, it definitely benefits their team and their defense. We certainly didn’t want to do that. We wanted to keep the game on the field and keep the score even. We got behind early and never could make a run to catch up. From that standpoint, it was a disadvantage for us, and an advantage for them.”

As for Elway, the Broncos Vice President of football operations, he won two straight Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII) but not before getting blown out in his first three. Elway was dominated by the Giants in Super Bowl XXI and lost 39-20. His Broncos scored the first 10 points of Super Bowl XXII before Washington scored 35 points in the second quarter and won, 42-10. It only got worse two years later when the Broncos were humiliated, 55-10, by the 49ers. Sunday’s game felt like that, something Elway denied after the game. “No, those are separate,” he said.

But still, Elway could relate with a Broncos team that won the AFC title like his did in the 1980s, only to get blown out on the game’s biggest stage.

“We just didn’t play like we’re capable of,” Elway said. “I was disappointed. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this. It started tough. We just couldn’t seem to get it going.

“It was a great year. It’s always disappointing. Only one team is happy at the end of the year, and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They played well. They took advantage of mistakes we made. I’m proud of these guys.”

The Broncos were sloppy and committed four turnovers, which didn’t include the bad snap for a safety or the overturned Trindon Holliday kickoff fumble recovery by Steven Hauschka.

“What hurts more is the turnover, because if you turn it over that many times, especially in this game to a good football team, which you know you’re going to play in this game, it’s hard to [win]. But that’s where you have to give the Seahawks a lot of credit.”

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Rodney Harrison on D&C: Peyton Manning ‘clearly looked rattled’ in Broncos’ Super Bowl loss at 10:28 am ET
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Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss Peyton Manning and the Broncos‘ loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

After one of the best seasons of his career, Manning had one of his worst games as the Broncos fell to the Seahawks 43-8.

“I think the pressure was just too much,” Harrison said. “I think it was overwhelming for the entire team. You saw from the very first play of the game. When you have two weeks to prepare for a team, you should come out and be able to handle the pressure, especially having that experience.

“I don’€™t know if the expectations were too high or they were just trying to play a perfect game. It was just really sad because to see something like that. I mean as a fan, I’€™m watching, I want a good, competitive game, and it was just flat-out embarrassing.”

“That was a prime example of what Peyton’€™s been struggling with,” Harrison added. “You know, in those big games, those big moments, not being able to come through, and he clearly looked rattled.”

Manning’€™s night started off with a botched snap that went sailing by his helmet before landing in the end zone.

“He didn’t look like the same Peyton Manning that was throwing the ball all over the place this whole entire season, and he just looked different,” Harrison said. “That’€™s what people are going to remember him by.

“People say, ‘€˜OK, the MVPs and the record-setting year he had this year,’€™ but at the end of the day, they’€™re going to look back at this game, and this game is going to haunt him. … This game will haunt him as well as the rest of those guys. The rest of those guys will be fine, but this is something that’€™s going to stick with Peyton.

“This is going to be tattooed next to Manning’€™s name if he doesn’t win another one.”

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Super Rout: Seattle Seahawks score in every way, crush Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII 02.02.14 at 9:54 pm ET
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MVP Malcolm Smith celebrates his 69-yard interception return for a TD in the first half Sunday. (AP)

MVP Malcolm Smith celebrates his 69-yard interception return for a TD in the first half Sunday. (AP)

EAST RUTHERFORD — In one of the most lopsided Super Bowl games ever, the Seattle Seahawks scored in the first 12 seconds and didn’t let up from there in an epic beat down of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.

It was not only Seattle’s first Super Bowl title in their 37-year history, it marked the first major championship for Seattle since the Supersonics beat the Bullets for the 1979 NBA championship.

Seattle dominated the game in every way possible, scoring a touchdown in all three phases while adding two field goals and a safety for good measure. The Broncos are no strangers to Super Bowl blowout losses as John Elway lost Super Bowl XXII by a 35-10 count. Two years later, they were blown out 55-10 by Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and the San Francisco 49ers.

In one of the most dreadful performances of his career on the game’s biggest stage, Manning threw a pair of costly interceptions, including a pick that was returned 69 yards by Malcolm Smith for a touchdown late in the first half. That interception made it 22-0 just over three minutes before halftime and earned him Most Valuable Player honors. Manning finished with a Super Bowl record 34 completions but needed 49 attempts for 280 yards. He was intercepted twice, including a bad pass behind Julius Thomas in the first quarter that wound up in the hands of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor. The game ended appropriately as Manning was strip-sacked on 4th-and-11 with three minutes left at his own 30. It was Denver’s fourth turnover of the game.

Then, on the opening kickoff of the second half, Percy Harvin, playing his first game since a concussion suffered in the NFC divisional round against New Orleans, outraced the Denver special teams unit 87 yards for a touchdown. That was the second kickoff return in as many Super Bowls, as Jacoby Jones returned a kick 108 yards in Baltimore’s Super Bowl XLVII win in New Orleans.

The Broncos continued their disgraceful performance on the next two drives. Instead of going for it on 4th-and-11 from Seattle’s 39, trailing 29-0, Denver coach John Fox decided to punt.

On the next possession, Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas caught a 29-yard pass down to the Seattle 15 but fumbled, committing Denver’s third turnover of the game.

The Thomas turnover led directly to Seattle’s fourth touchdown of the day, a 23-yard connection from Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse, with Kearse breaking three half-hearted tackles on his way to the end zone.

The game was a disaster from the very start. Manning couldn’t handle the opening snap from the shotgun from his own 14. The ball got by the Denver QB and was recovered in the end zone by Knowshon Moreno for a Seattle safety 12 seconds into the game, the quickest points in Super Bowl history.

Despite converting four of their first six third-down conversion attempts, Seattle could only manage field goals on their first two possessions inside the red zone but it didn’t matter in the end as the Seahawks out-gained the Broncos 148-11 in the first 15 minutes and never were threatened.

The Broncos avoided the indignity of becoming the first team ever to be shutout in the Super Bowl when Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas on a 14-yard in-cut in the end zone at the end of the third quarter. Manning found Wes Welker for a successful two-point conversion.

Seattle came right back, as Wilson found Doug Baldwin for a 10-yard score to make it 43-8.

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Peyton Manning, Luke Kuechly, Eddie Lacy among year-end award winners 02.01.14 at 8:24 pm ET
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When it comes to a complete list of the NFL’s year-end honors, here’s a rundown of who won what Saturday night:

Coach of the Year: Carolina’s Ron Rivera finished first, KC’s Andy Reid second and Bill Belichick was third. (For more on that voting. check out our story here.)

Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP award, reportedly garnering 49 of the 50 votes. Tom Brady got the other one.

Offensive Player of the Year: Manning received 33 of the 50 votes cast for the award. Philly’s LeSean McCoy finished second with 10 votes.

Defensive Player of the Year: Former BC linebacker Luke Kuechly, who now toils for Carolina, took home the honor with 19 votes, besting Indy All-Pro linebacker Robert Mathis, who got 11½ votes.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy won, the time a member of the Packers took him the award since 1971.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson barely edged Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso for the DROY honors, 23 votes to 19 votes.

Comeback Player of the Year: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers took the award.

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Media prognosticators split heading into Super Bowl 01.31.14 at 1:56 pm ET
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What happens when the best defense in the league faces off against the best offense? Even media prognosticators aren’t too sure.

ESPN‘€™s group of 13 analysts heavily favor the Broncos, with nine leaning toward Denver and just three favoring Seattle. Eric Allen, Merril Hoge, Ron Jaworski, KC Joyner, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Mark Schlereth, Tom Jackson, and Mike Ditka all believe that the Broncos will take the Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, Seth Wickersham, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter project the Seahawks will take home the trophy. Mike Golic did not choose a team.

Who wins Sunday's Super Bowl?

  • Seahawks in a close game in regulation (63%, 275 Votes)
  • Broncos in a close game in regulation (20%, 86 Votes)
  • Seahawks in a rout (9%, 38 Votes)
  • Broncos in a rout (7%, 30 Votes)
  • Seahawks in overtime (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Broncos in overtime (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 434

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The prognosticators at SB Nation gave the advantage to Seattle. Ryan Van Bibbler, Joel Thorman, Jason Chilton and Matt Ufford went with the Seahawks, while Stephen White and David Fucillo say the Broncos will win it.

Meanwhile, the CBS Sports panel came out completely split. Pete Prisco, Will Brinson, Josh Katzowitz and Jamey Eisenberg think Denver will win, whereas Jason La Canfora, Ryan Wilson, John Breech and Dave Richard favor Seattle.

Sports Illustrated’s panel was also split as Don Banks, Chris Burke, and Jim Trotter predicted the Broncos and Austin Murphy, Tom Mantzouranis and Doug Farrar went with the Seahawks.

Following are more predictions from around the country.

Elliot Harrison,, Broncos 27, Seahawks 23: “The weather won’€™t be bad enough to slow [Peyton Manning'€™s] air game drastically. If Seattle is to have a chance, [Russell Wilson] and the ‘€˜Hawks will have to get it together in the air to make it close at the end. Ultimately, though, given how the Broncos€™ defense has played of late, I feel that Denver will win Super Bowl XLVIII.”

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated, Broncos 24, Seahawks 20: “Elite defense usually trumps elite offense in Super Bowl showdowns of this ilk, and sometimes in blowout fashion (think Tampa Bay over Oakland from 11 years ago). But not this time. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s Peyton Manning‘s year and the rest of us are just along for the ride. Even the much-discussed weather will wind up breaking right for the Denver passing game on Sunday in the Meadowlands.”

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Steve Young on M&M: Postseason record would drive Peyton Manning ‘crazy’ if he loses Sunday at 1:52 pm ET
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Steve Young

Steve Young

Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss quarterback legacies. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Many in the media have argued whether or not Peyton Manning will solidify his spot as the best quarterback of all time if he wins the Super Bowl this weekend.

“You can say, ‘€˜Oh, it’€™s just perception and truly teams go to the Super Bowl,’ ” Young said. “It doesn’t matter. That’€™s what it is. … I think Peyton at this point recognizes he laid it all out here in the seasons he’€™s had, but I think that he’€™s getting sick of hearing about his postseason record. The Super Bowl championship would stop that part of it.

“That’€™s the part of life that never goes away, even 15 years after I played, there are things that happened that I still hear about because they happened and I can’€™t stop it. Peyton would not want to retire and always hear about his postseason record. It would drive him crazy.”

For Young, Tom Brady is a great quarterback because of the way he plays even without strong weapons on the field with him.

“Tom has done more with less than anyone who ever played,” Young said. “He is a master, and it’€™s remarkable. Literally during the season, there are games I can’€™t believe what he just did with what he had. You can say that’€™s a fault of the GM or injuries or bad luck. It doesn’t really matter, that’€™s just a fact. That’€™s part of the equation when you talk about greatness — what did you do with the guys you had?

“To me, this season was one of the more remarkable ones that I’ve seen Tom over the remarkable career he’€™s had, and it’€™s unfortunate because if you have those steady weapons, you look at what Peyton’€™s doing with his steady weapons and you have consistency and you’ve got not a lot of turnover in the era of free agency.

“It’€™s hard for me to watch the greatest generation not get the support they really need.”

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