As the air got colder and the night drew longer in Denver, the Broncos and Ravens were locked in a 35-35 tie at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos had the ball at the Ravens' 38-yard line. It was second-and-six with about a minute remaining in the first overtime.
This is when Manning typically makes his money. He was going to either throw for a first down, or at least keep the drive going.
Manning had been too good this season to make a mistake at such a critical juncture in this season-defining game, coming back from four neck surgeries to lead the Broncos to 11 straight victories and a first-round playoff bye.
This was his season of redemption, a chance to show everyone that he was, indeed, the Peyton Manning of old.
Well, that is exactly what we saw, the Peyton Manning of old, the guy who has led eight teams to early playoff exits due to his, well, average play in the postseason.
On this play in particular, Manning did something that he knew he shouldn’t have done: He threw across his body into traffic.
As the ball was snapped, Manning was flushed to his right by pressure from the Ravens' defense. He was trying to escape the pass rush and thought he saw an open Brandon Stokley.
He was wrong.
Manning quickly flung the ball, from his back foot across his body, to Stokley, who had to stop and run back toward it. But by that time, it was all too late. Ravens cornerback Corey Graham was in perfect position to intercept the ball at the Denver 45-yard line.
Two players after that interception, the Ravens' Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning 47-yard field goal at the start of the second overtime to send Manning home to do more Papa John’s commercials.
Manning’s season done, he would slowly walk off the field steeped in disappointment, and according to reports, would decline on-field postgame interviews.
Manning’s Playoff Failures
This isn’t the first time that Manning has failed in the playoffs. In 20 career playoff contests, including Saturday’s loss, Manning's teams are 9-11.
He’s thrown 32 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, two of which came Saturday. There is also the stinging fact that Manning is tied with Brett Favre for most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history.
Not to mention that Manning has fallen to 0-4 in playoff games when the temperature gauge reads 40 degrees or below.
Now that he has led his team to a double-overtime defeat on Saturday, many may consider Manning a choke artist in the playoffs. Now, I’m sure that some will say that Manning has made it to two Super Bowls, winning one, and that it was his teams that have let him down.
I would retort by pointing to Manning’s pass that was intercepted by Saints cornerback Tracy Porter in Super Bowl XLIV and returned 74 yards for a touchdown to seal the Saints' victory.
In the end, Manning will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. If he is able to take the Broncos to the Super Bowl next season and win it, his status goes up a tick.
Until then, he’s known as the guy who excels in the regular season, but turns into Tony Romo in the playoffs. Well, at least in some games he does.
Manning’s legacy was altered Saturday with his game-deciding interception, which begs the question: Does he choke when the playoffs arrive?