For every regular season touchdown Peyton Manning threw, for every 400-yard passing game, for every record setting performance, it all was followed with one simple caveat—do it in the playoffs.
As unfair as it may have been, the reality simply was that Manning's historic regular season would have been rendered meaningless if he didn't deliver in the playoffs.
On Sunday, playing against a Patriots team that has consistently had his number, Manning delivered in every way imaginable.
In one of the important games of his career, the soon to be five-time league MVP was at his very best.
On a stage where many expected him to choke, he controlled the game and ripped apart the Patriots defense as if he was playing against the Oakland Raiders in September.
In total, Manning completed 32 of 43 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. It was just the third time in 22 playoff games that he reached the 400-yard mark and the fourth time he threw multiple touchdown passes with no interceptions in the playoffs, according to Pro Football Reference.
He also broke the team playoff record for completions in a game, via ESPN Stats & Info.
Peyton Manning has broken the Broncos franchise record for most completions in a playoff game, beating Elway’s record of 29 in 1993 WC game.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 19, 2014
The importance of the victory certainly wasn't lost on Manning.
“You have to savor the moment,” he said to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. “It’s my 16th season and my third Super Bowl, and I know how hard it is to get there. . . . It’s hard to win, but I’m telling you, it’s hard to get there.”
Unlike back in Week 12 when the Broncos let a 24-0 lead to the Patriots slip away, Manning made it very clear there would be no such comeback on Sunday.
Trailing 13-3 at the half, the Patriots were in desperate need of a quick defensive stop to get some momentum on their side.
Instead, Manning and the Broncos put together a seven minute, 13-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a three-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to give Denver a 20-3 lead.
It was their longest drive of the season and virtually put an end to any hopes Patriots fans had of winning the game. It was also the fourth of six straight possessions that the Broncos scored on.
Each drive was long and methodical, eating up so much clock that Tom Brady was kept off the field for nearly 22 minutes in the second half.
It was simply the Peyton Manning show on one of the game's biggest stages.
Brilliant performance by Peyton Manning. Good day for his legacy. #Broncos— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) January 19, 2014
Now if Manning and the Broncos can't finish the job on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium, there will no doubt still be people out there that will continue to give him the "can't win the big game" label.
But the truth is the pressure on Manning to deliver on Sunday in the AFC Championship game was just as high as anything he will face when he plays a much better Seattle Seahawks team in Super Bowl XLVII.
Whether or not Manning can overcome the vaunted Seahawks defense shouldn't matter to his overall place in NFL history.
The greatest regular season quarterback ever proved on Sunday that he can be just as great with everything on the line in the playoffs.
In knocking off the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Manning's legacy was cemented.
We just need to wait another two weeks to see what he does for an encore.