One pass eclipses Manning's season

Peyton Manning's late interception provided ammunition for those who believe the Colts quarterback is overrated.
Peyton Manning's late interception provided ammunition for those who believe the Colts quarterback is overrated.
Posted: February 09, 2010

MIAMI - Peyton Manning did not intend that gift for New Orleans, no matter how much he loves his old hometown. Wow, was it ever expensive.

Manning's most memorable and most heartbreaking throw of Super Bowl XLIV went for a pick-six by Tracy Porter and led to the Indianapolis Colts' 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. That one throw cost Manning a possible second Super Bowl title and second Super Bowl MVP and - worst of all - gave his critics another round of ammunition to question his legacy.

It's harsh but inevitable that Manning should shoulder the burden.

We should credit Porter, certainly. He read the fourth-quarter, third-down wide pass to Reggie Wayne and jumped in front of it. He grabbed it on the run and stuck it in the end zone 74 yards later. He also stuck a dagger in every Colts fan's heart.

"He made a great play," Manning said. "That's all I can say. Porter made a heck of a play."

If we give Manning credit for his endless incredible moments, we have to hang some blame on him when he comes up short.

It doesn't make him any less of a great quarterback. But it takes some definite shine off a once-special season, and it does keep him still on the outside of the Super Bowl superstars.

"I don't think it will have any bearing" on Manning's legacy, Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's a great player. It never comes down to just one single play in a game. There are a lot of different things that happened in that game that could have put us in a different position."

That's true. The Colts didn't help themselves when they were caught unprepared and flat-footed by the Saints' onside kick to open the second half. But we've watched Manning direct so many game-changing drives, it was stunning to see him let loose a throw that went the wrong way.

Manning had protection. He had time. He made the worst possible split-second decision.

It's unfair that this decision, with the Colts driving hard, trailing by 24-17, will mar what has been an incredible season by Manning. But it's also reality.

No one will spend this week talking first about the great plays Manning made.

There were multiple great plays, too. Remember the classic 11-play, 96-yard drive that put the Colts up by 10-0, capped by Manning's 19-yard strike to Pierre Garcon for the score? Remember, too, an unbelievable throw to Dallas Clark - nestled in the midst of five Saints defenders - that kept alive the third-quarter drive that helped the Colts regain the lead?

Within that drive was one gutsy play, when Manning put the Colts in a four-wide formation, with no running back, practically begging the Saints to blitz. He dropped, looked, and hit Clark. Joseph Addai, who played a great game, finished with a spinning touchdown run.

None of those moments stick today. This week, we won't talk about Manning's 333 yards passing, we'll talk about the pick-six and the crushing blow to a Colts season in which they were previously 16-0 in games they tried to win.

"It's the Super Bowl; you never know how it's going to turn out," Manning said. "I thought we just didn't play well enough in certain times and certain phases. They deserved to win."