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Manning pays dearly for mistake

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  February 8, 2010 10:25 AM

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The second ring makes all the difference in the world, though Peyton Manning already knew that. And as of today, solely with regard to winning, there is no point in comparing Manning to Tom Brady when Peyton is having enough trouble keeping up with his kid brother.

Rest easy, New Englanders. You still hold the trump card over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Yesterday’s 31-17 victory by the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV had more to do with coach Jim Caldwell, the Indianapolis receiving corps, and the Indianapolis defense (an oxymoron, in retrospect?) than it did with Manning, but history won’t remember it that way. With the Saints holding a 24-17 lead and with the game on the line, Manning threw a lazy pick-6 to Tracy Porter that effectively ended the NFL season and left Manning looking like the Greg Norman of football.

Norman won major championships, after all, but he could have (and should have) won more. So it is now with Manning, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, who has played 12 seasons and won four Most Valuable Player awards but managed just one championship.

In all fairness to the quarterback of the Colts, he did not single-handedly lose this game. Far from it. But Manning did not win it, either, particularly when presented the chance at that moment when the truly great quarterbacks forge their legacy.

"Made a great play," Manning told reporters after the game when asked of Porter’s interception and 74-yard return. "Made a great play. Corner made a heck of a play."

And the quarterback did not.

How did the Colts blow this game? Let us count the ways. Indy held a 10-3 lead with scores on each of its first two possessions when Manning came back on the field with 9:34 to go in the first half. The Colts had a third-and-4 from their own 28-yard line when Manning hit a wide open Pierre Garcon on a crossing pattern that would have gone for big yardage were it not for one small fact: Garcon flat-out dropped the ball. The Saints subsequently took control of the ball for the next 6:25 in a drive that changed the complexion of the game.

New Orleans did not score on that possession, but it ultimately did not matter. The Colts ran on their next three plays and again were forced to punt, all but handing the Saints a field goal at the end of the half. A game that might be have been 10-3 (or more) in favor of the Colts instead sat at 10-6, an outcome that grew in magnitude after Sean Payton’s decision to go for an onside kick at the start of the third quarter.

Once the Saints went in for a touchdown and a 13-10 lead, Manning had been on the field for just two series and all of 2:06 from the end of the first quarter to the start of the third. He had thrown two passes – one a completion, the other the drop by Garcon. The Saints had taken complete control of the game.

Nonetheless, professional athletes are paid to win no matter the circumstances, something that Manning knows all too well. The Colts led 17-16 when Manning took over possession and drove Indy to the New Orleans 30 in the fourth quarter, when the Indy drive stalled. Manning faced a third-and-11 from the New Orleans 33 when he elected to throw deep down the middle to Austin Collie, missing the receiver and leaving Matt Stover with a 51-yard field goal attempt when even another five yards might have made all the difference.

The kick – like Manning’s decision-making at one of the more critical points of the game – came up short.

Of course, the interception by Porter ensued shortly thereafter, a play for which the Colts and Manning were as much to blame as Porter and the Saints were to praise. Indianapolis ineptitude invited the Saints back into the game in the second quarter. Colts calamity lost it in the fourth. For all that went wrong for Indianapolis during the first 54 minutes and change at Sun Life Stadium, Manning still had a chance to bring the Colts even (or better) when he trotted onto the field facing a 24-17 deficit with 5:42 left.

For Manning, who finished 31-of-45 for 333 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a rating of 88.5, the Porter interception forever will remain the play for which this performance is remembered. Maybe that is fair. Maybe that is not. But as Archie’s son and Eli’s brother in addition to being the quarterback of the Colts, Manning long ago learned something that forever every man who has ever played the position will attest to, even Tom Brady.

The quarterback gets much of the credit for winning.

And he gets most of blame for losing, too.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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