Divisional Weekend recap: The dusk of Manning

WASHINGTON — I’ve been posting these NFL recaps for six years, half of them here on WTOP.com. If you haven’t noticed, one of the recurring themes is my simultaneous respect for regular season Peyton Manning and complete disregard for playoff Peyton Manning (though, ironically, I actually picked Denver to return to the Super Bowl this year. *head slap*)

That formula has rarely let me down. It certainly didn’t Sunday, when Manning continued the trend he started in December, finishing 26-of-46 for 211 yards and just one touchdown in Denver’s loss to Peyton’s old place, Indianapolis.

I could beat this dead horse some more, but I won’t. I don’t put a lot of stock in Manning’s 11-13 postseason record or his 9 one-and-done performances in the playoffs (even though the latter stat is pretty damning, since 5 of those 9 losses were at home).

I’m instead going to type two words I didn’t really think I would say at the conclusion of this season: he’s done.

I take no joy in writing this. Just to provide some context, I’ve been watching Peyton Manning throw a professional football all of my adult life. I was a high school senior when he made his NFL debut in 1998. So we’ve enjoyed his brilliance — and perhaps even taken his greatness for granted — for more than a decade and a half.

That’s why Sunday was so alarming. I’ve seen Manning stink in a playoff game before. Remember the 41-0 loss to the Jets in 2002? Or the four-interception game against the Pats in ’03? Hell, the year he actually won the Super Bowl he played like crap in all but one of the Colts’ four playoff games.

But this loss to the Colts felt different. Peyton completed an epically awful 2-of-12 passes for 49 yards on throws of 15 yards or greater. Even if you scale it back to throws of 5 yards downfield it’s still unacceptable: 6-of-21. His passes had no zip. He was throwing wounded ducks out there.

As I mentioned in the Week 17 recap, Manning threw for just three TDs in the season’s final four weeks, including a pair of 0 TD games. But the “Peyton is done” narrative never gained any momentum because Denver still went 3-1 and scored 30.2 points per game thanks to C.J. Anderson and the Broncos ground game.

When Denver got aggressive in the offseason, perhaps it had less to do with their blowout Super Bowl loss and more to do with preparing for a declining Peyton Manning. Yes, he was coming off an incredible 55 touchdown season. But he’s a 38-year-old quarterback who is three seasons removed from a pretty serious neck surgery. Though the results weren’t as catastrophic, it’s easy to see why the Broncos took a page out of the 2000 “Fortune .500 Redskins” playbook by loading up on big name veteran free agents in the all-out pursuit of a championship.

But I don’t fault Denver for going all in on 2014. The Broncos took their shot, and Manning just flat ran out of gas a month-and-a-half before reaching the finish line.

This much feels certain: Peyton Manning’s run as an elite, high volume passer is over. And as a result, the Broncos as currently constituted are probably done too.

After the game, Manning was non-committal about his future — as he should be after an emotional loss. The revelation that Peyton was playing hurt doesn’t change my mind. My hope is that Manning does the right thing and calls it a career. He’s won a Super Bowl, he’s got nearly every meaningful passing record, and has made a compelling case for first-ballot enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Dude has nothing left to prove.

Sunday night, he proved the last thing he possibly could: Father Time is undefeated and still champ.

Speaking of champs…let’s recap the divisional round with an eye toward Championship Sunday:

Ravens 31

Patriots 35

In the first half, Joe Flacco threw for a Ravens postseason-record four TDs (his league-record eighth straight playoff game with multiple TD passes) and everyone was ready to crown him as elite. But Tom Brady IS elite…and a machine in temps below 40 degrees. Thus, New England is in the AFC title game for a fourth straight year.

And Baltimore? Quit whining over that trick play in the 3rd quarter. You got got. Plain and simple.

Panthers 17

Seahawks 31

It’s good to be Seattle: Eight straight home playoff wins. First defending Super Bowl champ to win a playoff game since 2005. On 3rd down alone, Russell Wilson completed all eight of his passes for 199 yards and three TDs, while Kam Chancellor spent the 2nd half damaging souls. And no cousins were kissed in the process. Damn, I wish I followed my gut and picked these guys to repeat…

The attention went to the Dez Bryant non-catch, but Aaron Rodgers beat the Cowboys on one leg Sunday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The attention went to the Dez Bryant non-catch, but Aaron Rodgers beat the Cowboys on one leg Sunday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Cowboys 21

Packers 26

Forget the Ice Bowl II talk. Forget the first postseason battle between an 8-0 home team and 8-0 road team. And definitely forget Dallas’ good luck charm. The Cowboys got robbed at the end of the game by a crappy rule, much like Detroit was in Dallas last week. The football gods are just.

Speaking of football gods…all Aaron Rodgers did was play a lights out second half after literally limping his way through the first half on a bad calf. A-Rod says he’s still got 120 minutes left in him but Seattle isn’t Dallas — he won’t be granted 30 minutes to get settled like he did Sunday.

Colts 24

Broncos 13

Whether he knew it or not, Peyton Manning officially passed the torch to Andrew Luck. The latter has now thrown for an NFL-record 1,703 passing yards in his first five postseason games and won his first road playoff game. No need to wait around for Luck to join elite status. He’s arrived. Just like Ray Lewis’ budding career as a motivational speaker.

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Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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