Leaving the field with the fans booing him, it felt like Peyton Manning completing a football game for the last time. The Indianapolis Colts weren’t great this season, but with Andrew Luck bringing his usual mix of brilliance and mistakes they were more than enough for the Denver Broncos, improving every aspect of their team over the offseason only to have their quarterback regress to the point in which he’s actually hurting his team.
Manning didn’t throw any interceptions, but he was sacked for a fumble once. He completed just 26-of-46 throws for 211 yards. With the thin Denver air, he struggled putting distance on his passes and misses his targets numerous times. He declined drastically and rapidly in the second half of this season, something no one expected. Maybe it’s an injury no one is talking about, but maybe it’s just the oldest quarterback in the NFL suddenly having his body fail him on his last chance to win the Super Bowl.
Luck did throw two interceptions, but unlike Manning, who seemed exhausted by every throw that went for over 10 yards, seemed to grow stronger and more confident with every snap and possession. He threw a couple of touchdown passes – one to Dwayne Allen and another to Hakeem Nicks, the latter putting the Colts up 21-10 in the third quarter, when it completely felt like this wasn’t going to be the day for the Broncos, with all eyes on Manning who had too many three-and-outs.
When the game was over, Manning seemed crushed and broken. A man who knows his best and prime are behind him. He didn’t say he’s staying, he didn’t say he’s retiring, but if body language means something, it looked like a player that has already made up his mind about what he’s going to do, but not about when he’s going to talk about it. It’s probably symbolic that the team to crush his dream are the Colts, and that Luck, the quarterback chosen to take over for him, gave him the final push off that ledge.
Everyone in the stadium felt it: This team, built to win a Super Bowl in the 2012-2014 three year window, failed once again, and for the second time had a one-and-done season, messing up at home. It adds to the legacy of Manning, which is filled with incredible numbers and moments in the regular season and also the playoffs, but also too many times of underachieving and failing to lead his team to victory in a game they’re favored, often happening because he himself simply doesn’t step up to the occasion.