This was supposed to be his night.
All season, he had done and said the right things. Amidst an NFL record 23-game regular season win streak followed by a three-week vacation in the middle of the season, Manning had a near-flawless year.
He took a young receiving corps and a rookie coach to new heights as the Colts rolled through the opposition en route to a berth in the NFL's biggest game, and Manning won a record fourth MVP award.
After a quarter of play last night, Manning appeared poised to join an elite club of quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls. His Colts led 10-0 over a flat Saints team, and Manning exuded a certain confidence that I hadn't often seen from him during postseason play.
That confidence was put on hold when the Saints decided they had seen enough of Manning. Peyton sat on the bench for well over an hour as Drew Brees and Sean Payton played keepaway from the Indy offense.
The strategy worked out for the Saints, as they cut the deficit to one in the second half. Manning's offense sputtered out, and the Saints took a 24-17 lead with just over five minutes to go.
Everyone with half a brain knew what was coming next: a classic Manning drive to tie the score.
Peyton Manning isn't denied on late fourth-quarter drives. He has moved the ball down the field countless times in the clutch, preying on timid defenses. The great Bill Belichick cowered at the prospect of a Manning two-minute drill. Opposing defensive coordinators resign themselves to defeat when they see No. 18 line up late.
This time it was for all the marbles. A tying drive would push Manning into the NFL's upper echelon. Failure was not an option.
A few plays and the Colts were in Saints territory. Predictable.
A couple more, and it was 3rd-and-5. No sweat.
Another conversion and the Saints' will would be broken. Manning would drive Indy all the way into the end zone, leaving it in his defense's hands to make a stop.
Manning stacked two receivers to the left. Then Austin Collie came free over the middle, but Manning threw to Reggie Wayne instead. Disaster.
Tracy Porter stepped in front of Wayne, caught the pass, and took it back the other way for six points and a Super Bowl ring.
Porter's interception sealed a game that will leave Manning thinking what could have been. For years, he's been on the brink of cementing his status as the greatest ever, but after last night his legacy took a major hit.
Manning threw for 333 yards and a TD, but it was his game-ending interception that might define his career. The throw was no one's fault but his own, and it will tarnish Manning's reputation for years to come.
Manning is still the greatest passer to come from this decade. He is a leader who makes sure his teammates come to play every week. His class and work ethic are what endears him to fans everywhere.
However, despite all the accolades, Manning has just one title. He has been on numerous teams that had the potential to go all the way, but just once has he led his team to the trophy.
Last night, Manning had a prime opportunity to silence the doubters and add to his greatness. He failed.
As strange as it sounds, Manning's dreams were dashed by a single throw. One bad pass in the biggest game of his life, and Peyton Manning's shot at supremacy is slipping away.