Before the angry mob of Denver faithful sends their death threats or shows up at my house with their torches and pitchforks, hear me out. Before the off-season, a majority of you Denver fans were still in disarray after the departure of Tim Tebow. It was not until the Colts let go of Manning, the face of the Indianapolis who was lost to a season-long injury that you began to once again revere your beloved Broncos.
In what could be considered one of the saddest moments for both the Colts and the NFL, Manning held a teary-eyed press conference announcing that he and the Colts had parted ways. In perhaps one of the most lop-sided QB contract battles in off-season history, Denver was able to stave off dozens of suitors in need of a franchise signal caller. This list of suitors included the lowly Chiefs, then considered the front runners in the race to sign Manning. Had Manning chosen Denver’s division rival, it would be hard to contemplate a season that was as successful with Brock Osweiler in control.
Fast forward to Saturday where Denver, the number one ranked team in the AFC, were huge favorites to play the Baltimore Ravens at Mile High Stadium. Manning and co. were favored in just about every category heading into the contest. Someone forgot to tell that to this Ravens squad. This Broncos team, winners of their last eleven straight games, often looked average against a Raven’s squad that boasts the oldest active roster in the NFL; a team that had played 90 snaps on defense the week before in a gutsy win against the Colts. This game may not have been as close if not for the outstanding play of specials teamer, Trindon Holliday. Ray Lewis’ last season is extended for at least one more game as the Ravens faceoff between the winner of the Texans/Patriots for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. It is also the Raven’s second AFC Championship game in two years, and three in head coach John Harbaugh’s five-year stint with the team.
Despite being counted out all week, Joe Flacco and his Ravens were able to match and even outperform the solid play by the home team. Facing almost certain elimination, Flacco and Jacoby Jones were able to engineer a whopping 70-yard game-tying play with less than a minute left in the fourth.
Though the Flacco to Jones connection was special, more people are talking about the misplay of the secondary that allowed Jones to score. On third and three with the clock ticking down under forty seconds, Flacco heaved up a prayer towards the right sideline. Rahim Moore, the safety defending Jones’ sideline, completely mistimed his jump allowing Jones to walk into the end zone to tie the game for the sixth time at 35-35. Adding insult to injury, Moore’s failed attempt at a pick took out Tony Carter, who might have been able to tackle Jones after the catch.
But who is really to blame for the biggest blunder of the 2013 Playoffs? While the clear-cut winner here may be Rahim Moore, Manning and the offense might also jump out at you as potential candidates. Though Manning threw for nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs, it was the late interception in the first OT that set up Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal.
After Saturday’s loss to the gritty Ravens squad, Peyton Manning tied Brett Favre for the most losses in the Playoffs with 11. Manning can also be compared to the likes of the former Green Bay gunslinger for another reason—his multiple interceptions thrown. Conjuring up memories of Playoffs past, Manning did his best Favre impression by tossing an errant pass down the middle that would wind up in the hands of Corey Graham. Graham had also picked off Manning for a 39-yard score in the high-scoring first quarter.
Play-calling may also be a huge factor as to why Denver was unable to put this one away. More specifically, clocking the game with 31 seconds and two timeouts left in the fourth quarter. Does management have no faith in the game’s best QB to take some shots downfield to his dynamic WR duo? Steeler fans remember all too well how easily the Broncos can score when Demaryius Thomas is targeted in space. Though we will never know for sure, this is a moment that Denver is probably wishing they could probably re-do.
However, the one person not receiving much blame is Manning, most likely due to his personality and likability. Peyton is not receiving nearly as much attention for his costly turnovers. After drawing comparisons to Favre with his playoff losses, it is easy to see how speculation would be different if there was another player under center. Hypothetically, if Favre were in Manning’s role in this situation, the media coverage would be off the charts on all of the major sports networks. Heck, it still might even get talked about heading into the Super Bowl weekend. While not personally having anything negative to say against either athlete, the preferential treatment is what really stands out here. The media may not be paying attention, but fans scratching their heads from last night’s tragedy certainly are. Peyton Manning is still an excellent quarterback, leader, and man on and off the football field, and Saturday’s loss does not change that. Football is a team sport and you win and lose as a team, but #18 might have to shoulder more of the blame for Denver’s disappointing early exit from Super Bowl contention.
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