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Monday, February 3, 2014
Super Bowl blowout a pity for Peyton

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was no time to sulk. That's not how Peyton Manning would handle one of the worst defeats a quarterback has ever absorbed in the Super Bowl.

This hurt, mind you. This stung. But it is not in Manning's makeup to wallow in disappointment or pity, even though he and his Denver Broncos teammates squandered an opportunity to put Manning in untouchable company.

Had Manning led the Broncos to victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, had he added a second Super Bowl and another Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy to the record five league MVP titles he has won, the conversation would have been over. Manning would have been the GOAT. He would have achieved enough, in the regular season and, when it matters most, in the postseason.

But that didn't happen. Seattle made sure of that, dominating the Broncos from the jump and delivering a lopsided beatdown. The Broncos already had a 55-10 loss in their Super Bowl history. Now they have 43-8. One belongs to John Elway, the other to Manning.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning begins the long walk toward the offseason after his second Super Bowl loss.

It will be tough to get over, if Manning ever can.

And one question that hung in the air after the game ended was as distasteful as the game itself:

Was it embarrassing?

"It's not embarrassing," Manning said, choking back on a word he said he refuses to use, ever.

"Embarrassing is an insulting word."

It didn't matter that the Seahawks have the first defense since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in fewest yards allowed, fewest points allowed and most turnovers created. It didn't matter that earlier this season Seattle had embarrassed other teams -- such as Eli Manning's New York Giants or Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints -- with their unique blend of speed and aggressiveness up front.

It actually all made sense. Manning knew you can't have a minus-four turnover margin and expect to win a game, especially a Super Bowl. Turnovers matter. Wasted possessions matter.

You can't hand a team like Seattle a gift-wrapped safety on the opening snap and then fail to gain a first down until the second quarter. All that does is give the Seattle defense, already brimming with swagger, even more confidence.

Manning knew all that. But 43-8? One of the biggest losses in Super Bowl history, in which the greatest offense in the history of the National Football League mustered only 279 yards, one touchdown and eight points?

That Manning didn't see coming.

All those yards Manning had thrown for during the regular season, in the end, meant nothing. All those touchdowns he threw -- more than any other team in the league -- were hollow. Manning might not have been throwing ducks, as Richard Sherman had surmised, but who cares now?

Fair or not, now we go back to the discussion about Manning's legacy. He has been to three Super Bowls. He has won only one. He is 37 years old, with a very important doctor's appointment on the horizon. The clock is ticking.

You can argue that Manning's two interceptions in the first half were not his fault. The first came on a play to tight end Julius Thomas, who got tangled up in coverage, escaped a defender and broke off his route. Manning threw to the spot where Thomas was supposed to be but wasn't. Seattle safety Kam Chancellor easily made the pick.

On the sideline, Broncos coaches immediately sat Thomas down, showed him the pictures and explained what he'd done wrong.

On the second interception, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril knocked Manning's arm as he threw the ball. Linebacker Malcolm Smith made the interception and ran 69 yards for a touchdown that put Seattle up 22-0 with less than four minutes to play in the first half.

And with that, it was basically over.

After the game, Manning's father, Archie, and older brother, Cooper, spoke briefly with Peyton, who then showered, dressed and walked to a hallway to see his wife.

He then walked to his postgame news conference, answered a battery of questions, went back to the locker room for another quick chat with his wife and then walked -- flanked by a state trooper -- down a long hallway, around a corner and out of sight.

On the night of perhaps his biggest career disappointment -- a word he used over and over and over -- Manning took no time to wallow, no time to sulk.

"I don't know if you ever get over it," he said.

Elway would know. He was the Broncos' quarterback in Super Bowl XXIV, when Denver lost to the San Francisco 49ers 55-10 in a game that, much like Sunday's, was never close.

Asked what he would tell Manning, Elway said: "Well, I just -- it was one of those nights. You've got to [give the Seahawks] them credit on the defensive side. We just can't make the mistakes that we made, especially against a good football team. You're not going to beat a really good football team turning it over four times and not getting any turnovers.

"He had a great year. Hopefully, we'll learn from this, and we're going to go at it again next year."

Next year. It is always next year. Manning could have made next year into the easiest season of his life. It could have simply been gravy on a stellar career.

Now, it means more than ever. He probably won't, but if Manning needed a little time to wallow in the loss, no one would blame him. He lost more than a football game. Manning lost a huge opportunity to end a conversation that has hounded him for much of his career.