Peyton Manning was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play at the beginning of Super Bowl XLVIII. Three hours (or so) later, he remained one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Nothing really changed in New Jersey on Groundhog Day, 2014.
The Broncos got destroyed by Seattle. Manning didn’t play well. It wasn’t all his fault, although he did have a hand in the ugly.
The only way Manning’s much-discussed “legacy” could have changed, I suppose, was if the Broncos won and he’d played his ass off.
That was the fervent hope of Manning’s True Believers -- that the “one of” would be removed and Manning would be simply -- in their estimation, “the greatest quarterback.”
The “one of” sticks. Manning is right where he should be -- up there with Montana, Unitas, Elway, Marino and Brady. But he does not stand alone.
And he certainly didn’t stand alone as the reason the Broncos got destroyed in a retro-Super Bowl dud.
Manning doesn’t leave the game as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). But he wasn’t the goat, either.
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Seattle was going to be a difficult defensive matchup for any team, but for the Broncos it was a nightmare. They’d set records because their fleet of receivers -- under Manning’s direction -- were able to exploit mismatches all season. They didn’t have them against a long and physical Seahawks secondary that got in the masks of Julius and Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.
The jams at the line screwed up the timing of the routes. Manning wasn’t able to rid himself of the ball in less than two seconds as he so often did. The speed of the linebackers and safeties lying in wait for the crossing patterns meant that when a receiver did uncover he was getting labeled and/or gang-tackled. And Manning’s lack of arm strength made it impossible for him to rip balls into tight windows.
With the plays developing more slowly, the Seahawks' pass rush made Manning jumpy and eventually forced him to throw sideways as often as vertically.
Manning doesn’t get off scot-free. The first interception he threw was all on him. With a blitz coming off the right edge, he had room to step up and throw but he rushed his throw and sailed it high and behind Julius Thomas who was actually open for a 17-yard gain.
But the Broncos were facing a third-and-7 on that play because Knowshon Moreno got stripped as he was battling for the sticks. A third-and-1 that would have allowed a simpler play call turned into a must-throw down. Doesn’t absolve Manning of an awful throw, just goes to show the backstory that led to the awful throw.
The second pick, when the Broncos were down 15-0, was another panic attack. Manning should have taken the sack with pressure in his face but he freaked, got picked and Malcolm Smith took the wobbly blooper back for a pick-six.
The Broncos were already in a hole. When a team finds itself in one, the first thing it needs to do is stop digging. Manning put down his shovel and asked for an excavator.
If you’re looking for some evidence that Manning was the Bronco most responsible for putting holes in Denver’s shot at winning, I guess that would be it.
Their best player couldn’t stop the bleeding. He actually made it worse. And when the going got tough, Manning looked resigned and disgusted rather than looking like a guy with some resolve from whom his teammates could draw a little energy.
"It's not embarrassing at all,” Manning said in his postgame interview. “I would never use that word. ... That word embarrassing is an insulting word to tell you the truth."
Insult or no, it was an embarrassment.
When the first snap of the game goes awry and turns into a safety (there didn’t seem to be consensus in the postgame as to who screwed that up), it’s embarrassing. And when your defense settles for body checks instead of wrap tackles it’s embarrassing. And when your pooch kickoff sets up a touchdown return it’s embarrassing.
The Broncos got outhit, out-schemed, out-coached, and didn’t show much fight until after the whistle when it already was, well, embarrassing.
In three Super Bowl appearances, Manning is 89-of-131 for 846 yards with three touchdown passes, four interceptions and two lost fumbles. In his last Super Bowl appearance, he threw a pick-six with five minutes left on what could have been a game-tying drive. In this one, it never even got close to that kind of heartbreak.
He’s now lost more playoff games (12) than any quarterback in NFL history and he’s been one-and-done more than any quarterback in playoff history.
He’s won five MVPs and his regular-season passing statistics are the best ever compiled. He’s been to three Super Bowls. He’s lost two and won one and the one he won, he wasn’t particularly outstanding.
But football is the ultimate team game, and Seattle’s team was better than Denver’s. Manning couldn’t change that.
And Sunday night didn’t change his legacy either.
Tom E. Curran is the Patriots insider for CSN New England. Follow him on Twitter at @tomecurran.