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Published: Monday, 1/20/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

COMMENTARY

Manning masterful yet again

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Watching Peyton Manning never gets old because he is forever young.

He is 37 years and 10 months old and threw for 400 yards on Sunday, and his Denver Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl.

He may look a bit creaky. Watch him run, put him in black high-tops, and he might be Johnny Unitas. But the statistics and performances are ageless and timeless.

Any suggestion that his legacy would have been tainted, his accomplishments diminished, had the outcome been otherwise on Sunday is just silliness.

Manning is one of the best to ever play professional football. You know that without any help from me.

This recently concluded regular season he passed for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. All of that at his age and with four neck surgeries behind him.

And he had to prove anything on Sunday? Get serious.

Football more than ever is a quarterback-driven game, but so many elements are out of his control.

In 2009, for example, Manning’s Indianapolis Colts won two playoff games despite a rushing attack that ranked last in the NFL and a defense that ranked 26th. The bid ended short of a Super Bowl title. That was Manning’s fault?

A couple years earlier, when Indianapolis made its first trip to the title game with him at quarterback — and won — the defense ranked No. 19.

Only twice in 13 playoff seasons has Manning’s offense been combined with a top-12 defense.

Tom Brady has had 11 playoff seasons with New England and nine of those teams have featured top-10 defenses.

The Brady-Manning rivalry is certainly one of the best ever in sports. They are the two best of their generation, arguably the two most popular players in the game today.

Both have stood the test of time. They entered Sunday’s game with 340-plus wins between them. Brady has the three rings in five Super Bowl tries. Manning has the one title and mind-boggling regular-season stats. They’ll both have busts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton someday soon.

But they don’t square off head-to-head. Neither legacy took a hit on the basis of winning or losing in the AFC championship game.

Denver won 26-16; thus, Manning’s surely grew.

He completed 32 of 43 passes. His team had 507 yards of total offense, the most ever surrendered in the playoffs by a Bill Belichick-coached team. The Broncos had no turnovers. Manning was never sacked, rarely hurried, barely breathed upon by New England’s defense.

It was a virtuoso performance by the game’s most talented, most cerebral maestro.

One never tires of watching him watch the defense, barking signals, orchestrating his chess pieces, passing through the tightest of alleys and putting the ball on a dime.

On Sunday, he was the ultimate possession passer. The Broncos’ two touchdowns came on drives that took 7:01 and 7:08 off the clock.

Meanwhile, Brady wasn’t as sharp and got little help. Working with a less-talented receiving corps than Denver’s to begin with — Danny Amendola is still looking for his first catch — his recently potent running game was equally ineffective.

Late in the third quarter, the Patriots trailed 20-3 and bypassed a 47-yard field goal only to have Terrance Knighton sack Brady for a fourth-down loss.

A few years back, one of Belichick’s famous fourth-down calls came in a playoff game against Indy. His reason, he said later, was to keep Peyton off the field. It worked.

He might have had a similar thought on Sunday. It didn’t work off often enough.

So, Peyton Manning is heading back to the Super Bowl, where the opponent will be loaded for bear on defense.

It will be another test for the master quarterback.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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