To grasp how surprising it was to see the Denver Broncos get thoroughly outplayed at home by the Indianapolis Colts, try reading this line from USA Today writer Christine Brennan.
Walking gingerly, appearing to slightly favor his injured left thigh, Manning was nothing like the quarterback Americans have come to know and respect. He was booed early and often in a surprisingly lackluster effort.
The most damning thing about Denver’s 24-13 loss on Sunday wasn’t Denver’s high-priced defense (which didn’t play including offseason acquisition Aqib Talib) or receivers (Demaryius Thomas dropped a pair of passes); it was that Peyton Manning looked and – most importantly – played like an old man.
Manning finished 26 of 46 for 211 yards and a TD. Yet, of his previous 12 playoff losses, his 13th proved to be the most alarming for what is to come for him in the future.
As he kept throwing incomplete pass after incomplete pass, the realization that this is the end of an era washed over those at Sports Authority Field. Perhaps, that would explain the excess of boos that reigned throughout the stadium as the Broncos failed drive after drive.
During the postgame press conference, Manning was oddly evasive about whether he planned to return for the 2015 season.
“Yeah, I guess I just can’t give that simple answer without processing it,” Manning said.
“I can’t say that. I could not say that.”
Seeing his lose in the postseason isn’t odd. He has done that 13 times – more than any other quarterback in NFL history. It wasn’t odd seeing him lose his first playoff game. He has gone one and done on nine occasions.
The striking part proved to be the level of inefficiency from a Manning offense featuring a plethora of overthrows and underthrows.
The play pictured below summed it up perfectly. Manning and the Broncos faced with a 3rd and 5 from the Denver 25. Instead of pulling it down and running with 20 yards in front of him (yes, we know he doesn’t run often), Manning tried to squeeze a pass downfield to Emmanuel Sanders along the sideline. Sanders failed to stay inbounds and it perfectly symbolized Denver’s plight on the day.
Manning was set to fall to a younger and more athletic counterpart in Andrew Luck, who would have easily taken off and grabbed the first down. Instead, Manning’s skills no longer allowed him to make plays that Luck could make with his eyes closed.
Now, it’s Luck – and not Manning – that will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxborough next Sunday for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLIX.