Peyton Manning walked off the field with a bewildered, devastated, disgusted look on his weary face.
That was the case following the Broncos 24-13 loss to the underdog Colts on Sunday night. It was the case following Denver's 43-8 loss to Seattle last February in Super Bowl XLVIII. It was the case the previous year in another home loss to the Ravens in the Broncos first playoff game.
It was also the case nearly a decade earlier, when Manning-then with the Colts-suffered a shocking defeat to the Steelers, a sixth seed that many prognosticators predicted would be pummeled by Manning and the Colts.
During that game nine years ago, Dick Lebeau and the Steelers defense decided to put pressure on Manning, knowing that Peyton would not abandon the passing game no matter what the results. Live by the sword, die by the sword, and for Manning, the sword has been his right arm.
In his team's 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in that fabled divisional playoff game, Manning threw 38 times with little success, as Joey Porter and the Steelers pass rush had a field day in the Colts backfield. Edgerrin James, who fueled the Colts best drive of that afternoon to pull the score to 21-10 Steelers, was called upon just 13 times. In large, Manning has abandoned his rushing game in the big games, creating a one dimensional, predictable offense that defenses has more often than not have teed off on.
Lebeau realized this nine years ago, and employed a defensive game plan predicated on applying pressure on Manning. It was the same story yesterday, with Manning throwing the ball 46 times while the Broncos ran the ball just 20 times. Like the Steelers nine years earlier, the Colts defense became prone to what Manning wanted to do, and emphatically shut the door down on the surefire Hall of Famer's season.
My hope is that either Manning retires, or he gets a new head coach in Denver that will do what Tony Dungy did in 2006, which was employ a strong running game that Manning has no choice but to use. It's clear that Manning can't have a defensive-orientated coach that simply gives him all the controls of the offense. John Elway, the man controlling the operation in Denver, needs to step in and give Manning the blueprint he used when winning his two Super Bowls late in his career.
Players like Manning and games like last night continue to remind me about how only true teams win Super Bowls. The 1970s Steelers won multiple ways, first with powerful rushing attacks and strong defenses, later with a devastating passing game and a still effective defense. Was Terry Bradshaw a better quarterback than Peyton Manning? Most would say no, but one thing you can't say about Bradshaw was that he couldn't manage a game. Calling the plays, Bradshaw did a masterful job against the Cowboys defense in Super Bowl XIII. He called the plays that sprung loose John Stallworth and spring-boarded the Steelers final Super Bowl victory. He understood what his offenses needed to do to be successful. While I surely wouldn't be opposed to having Manning quarterback my team, I'd take Bradshaw any day of the week and twice come playoff time.