Peyton Manning Lost His Confidence with the Denver Broncos
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Sorry, Denver Broncos fans, you had your chance. You had home-field advantage and a clear path to the Super Bowl.
With 31 seconds left and two timeouts, Peyton Manning took the field Saturday needing only a field goal to win and advance to the AFC Championship Game.
What did he do? He took a knee. Manning, a four-time NFL MVP and a 13-time Pro Bowler, was just another quarterback.
Instead of going for the win, head coach Fox and the Broncos coaching staff felt more confident turning the game over to their defense in overtime.
The same defense that just got burned giving up a 70-yard pass play to Jacoby Jones to tie the game seconds before.
Whether it was intentional or not, the Broncos coaching staff sent the signal that they didn't have confidence in Manning.
Do you think Peyton Manning will win another Super Bowl?
It looked like 36-year-old Manning, the likely winner of the 2012 NFL MVP award this season, had lost his mojo.
In the second overtime, Manning tried to make something from nothing, breaking character, throwing while on the run and getting picked off by Corey Graham.
Manning's season was one for the ages, moving from the Indianapolis Colts to the Broncos, a team that looked tailor-made for his talents. This season Manning threw for 4,659 yards with 37 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions while winning 13 games.
But Saturday was different. Against the Ravens, Manning looked merely mortal. He turned the ball over three times, which lead to 17 points and the eventual game-winning field goal by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker.
The frigid conditions in Denver and the Ravens defense certainly played a part in Manning's performance, but he also looked like he had lost his fastball, his ability to zip the ball to his receivers.
After spending nearly his entire career in a dome with the Colts, he was now at the mercy of the elements and the elements weren't being kind. The starting game temperature of 13 degrees seemed to have an effect on Manning and the passing game all day.
This report from Baltimore Sports Report's Zach Wilt in the week before the game shows that Manning had really struggled under 40 degrees during the playoffs in his career. His career record now stands at 0-4 after Saturday's loss.
The past two years have been very tough for Manning: being out of the game for a year, recovering from multiple surgeries, rehabbing his neck and throwing arm, disproving rumors that he wouldn't be healthy enough to return to football and changing teams.
More than 18 months after playing his last game, Manning showed all of his critics that he could continue to play at a Pro Bowl-level.
Looking at Manning now, a player with such a checkered playoff history, it wasn't the end that he had hoped for. His career record in the playoffs now stands at 9-11. Eight times in his career, a Manning-led team has gone one-and-done in the playoffs.
That's 75 percent of the time his team has gone into the playoffs and not won a game. If not for his Super Bowl win in 2006 against the Chicago Bears, his critics would be a lot louder.
For a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and all-time great quarterback like Manning, it has to feel like a small consolation right now.
Manning and the Broncos can now use the offseason to rebound from losing one of the most memorable NFL playoff games in quite some time and get after it next season.
Both Peyton Manning and John Fox will have a lot of questions that they will need to answer.
It's going to be a very long winter for the Broncos and their fans.
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