Before the big game, I wrote that Manning wanted this win for his legacy but didn't need it. While neither I nor anyone saw that 43-8 Seattle Seahawks beatdown coming, it didn't change the overall reality of the situation: Manning is still one of the elite quarterbacks of all time and has already accomplished more than almost any quarterback could dream of.
So why do we have to talk about it?
This narrative is going to be brought up because Manning came back to the game. Note: He didn't have to come back to the game. He would've been a first-ballot Hall of Famer (unanimous, to boot) had he simply retired when actor Rob Lowe said he would.
It isn't exactly fair that Manning coming back from seemingly insurmountable odds somehow tarnishes his legacy, but that's how we think. From Joe Montana in Kansas City to Brett Favre in Minnesota, if a player is chasing a title away from the city he called home, we want to see him get it—or else.
The Broncos weren't assembled to put up scoring records. Now that's certainly a nice ancillary benefit, but this team was forged to give Manning everything he needed to win a title. He's got the coaching (John Fox, Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio). He's got the offensive skill-position talent. Healthy, the team's offensive line and defense are nothing to sniff at, either.
On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks were certainly built to stop an offense like the Broncos. I had noted (and apparently ignored when making my prediction) that it was the Jacksonville Jaguars who scared the Broncos the most in 2013. The Jaguars were nobodies in the NFL world but punched the Denver offense about as hard in the gut as any defense could.
Jacksonville is just "Seattle South" after bringing in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as head coach and beginning to look for the same types of players on defense.
Is it any wonder that current defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was widely interviewed for jobs? Would it be any surprise if teams that eschewed waiting for Quinn were kicking themselves this morning? The answer to those questions is a resounding "no."
Yet, honor is not a zero-sum game in the NFL.
Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase was a hot candidate before this game as well. Some of the work he's done with this offense as been phenomenal, and he's been known to command the respect even of Manning himself. Does his candidacy cool off after this? Maybe. Do we completely disregard him? No.
In the same way, we can credit and give all the kudos and plaudits in the world to the Seahawks defense. That unit came from the more imposing NFC and the more physically treacherous NFC West and took down the absolute best the AFC had to offer. We do that and avoid completely throwing Manning under the bus, because that's how reality works.
At the NFL level, the "buck" always stops with the head coach and quarterback. So it's easy (read: lazy) to simply make this game a referendum on Manning, and hey, let's just ignore the rest of his career. Let's talk about how he "needed" this win because amnesia is a thing, and role play is all the rage these days.
The Broncos have work to do.
President John Elway has done good work since taking over football operations, yet he might be one we've anointed too quickly. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (along with the entire unit) looked almost frightened at points on Sunday. The offensive line, due to injury and subpar play, did little to contribute. The defense has been old for a while but looked positively decrepit against a Seattle team that did little scoring for the past month.
As we look forward, those are legitimate areas of growth for the Broncos: young talents on offense continuing to grow, the defense getting younger, the offensive line getting healthy and deeper—all orchestrated by a former Broncos quarterback who has been exactly where Manning has.
It is lazy, boring and insufficient to look at this Super Bowl loss only in terms of Manning. It is worse yet to somehow extrapolate this Super Bowl loss onto his entire career as if it were a defining moment.
It is obtusely ignorant of all Manning has done. It is insulting to the Seahawks, as if they couldn't win without Manning laying an egg (and as if they didn't cause the same).
Let's be better than that.
As we march on toward the combine, toward free agency, toward the draft and eventually on toward the 2014 NFL season, let's be better than that. Let's find real ways—constructive and informative ways—to talk about this Super Bowl domination by the Seahawks than simply by reaching the lowest common denominator.
We can do it.