East Rutherford, New Jersey: Peyton Manning confirmed his Hall of Fame credentials with another record-breaking season, but his standing among the truly great quarterbacks remains uncertain after his Denver Broncos suffered a humiliating 43-8 Super Bowl defeat on Sunday.
After collecting his fifth National Football League most valuable player award on Saturday, Manning’s place in the Canton, Ohio, shrine is assured but the heavy loss against the Seattle Seahawks has left a cloud over his legacy.
With one Super Bowl win in three attempts, his historical impact will be left for others to debate in the coming years but on Sunday, the only thing on Manning’s mind was where it all went wrong.
“I think we played a great football team,” said the 37-year-old. “We needed to play really well in order to win and we didn’t come anywhere close to that.
“We weren’t sharp offensively from the get-go.”
It was hardly a Hall of Fame-worthy first quarter for Manning, who watched the opening snap sail over his head for a safety to put Denver in an early hole.
Manning, who tossed for a record 5,477 yards during the regular season, completed just two passes for five yards and an interception that the Seahawks turned into a touchdown and a 15-0 first quarter lead.
“The turnover on the first play of the game to give them a safety is not the way you want to start a game,” Manning said. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t get much going after that.
“Give Seattle credit, they are an excellent football team and they caused a lot of our mistakes.
“At the same time we just didn’t play well.”
The Denver offence managed just 11 net yards in a miserable opening quarter, but the misfiring continued into the second when Manning was picked off by Seattle’s Malcolm Smith, who returned the ball for a 69-yard touchdown.
The half ended with the highest scoring offence of all-time held scoreless by Seattle’s top-ranked defence and in a shocking 22-0 hole.
The situation soon went from grave to terminal when Percy Harvin returned the second-half kick-off for a touchdown, handing Manning an insurmountable 29-0 mountain to climb.
Manning tried, going to the air and completing 34-of-49 pass attempts for 280 yards, but it was not nearly enough to erase the deficit.
“We got behind early and never could make a run to catch up,” he said. “We knew they were an excellent defence. They executed better than we did.
“Certainly to finish this way is very disappointing. It is not an easy pill to swallow, but eventually you have to.”
Thirteen times Manning has taken teams to the play-offs, but he has hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy just once, a championship less than younger brother Eli, who has twice led the New York Giants to NFL titles.
Two seasons on from missing a year due to neck surgeries, Manning produced a campaign for the ages, setting single season marks for touchdown passes (55) as well as yards.
With the Broncos tipped as Super Bowl favourites right from the start of the season, Manning had been under mounting pressure to prove he can also get the job done when it counts and turn his record-smashing campaign into another Super Bowl title.
Manning continued to rewrite the record book at the MetLife Stadium on Sunday, setting a Super Bowl record with 34 completions, but a second ring once again slipped through his fingers as Seattle’s ferocious defence left the Broncos quarterback under pressure and flustered.
“He’s disappointed like all of us but he had a tremendous year,” Denver head coach John Fox said. “I told him he had a great season, a record-breaking season, and he just came up a little short tonight.”