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Manning beats an unhappy, hasty retreat

When he last played in a Super Bowl here, Peyton Manning left the field with Most Valuable Player honors as the 2006 Indianapolis Colts celebrated victory.

This time, Manning couldn't leave Sun Life Stadium fast enough.

Manning reacted stoically Sunday night after wide receiver Reggie Wayne dropped his team's last gasp -- a fourth-down pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. With hands on hips and his helmet still on, Manning returned to the sideline and stared at a video-board replay. He then headed toward the locker room before the final seconds expired in New Orleans' 31-17 win.

Was it poor sportsmanship for not shaking hands with Saints players? Sure. But after what had just transpired in Super Bowl XLIV, I wouldn't want to look back either.

At his postgame news conference, Manning used the word "disappointing" 18 times in an 11-minute span. He sounded like someone who felt Indianapolis lost this game more than New Orleans won it. Manning has a point. He lamented the Colts' dropped throws, poor special teams and struggles by a defense that couldn't stop Saints quarterback Drew Brees. When asked what New Orleans did to disrupt Indianapolis' offensive rhythm, Manning said, "I think I'd have a hard time saying that ... We stopped ourselves for the most part."

Manning, though, has only himself to blame for the mistake that ultimately doomed the Colts. Trailing by seven points, he went to the well once too often with one of the Colts' staple plays -- a quick slant to Wayne. Manning had connected with Wayne on two of the three previous downs and tried doing it again on third-and-five from the Saints 31-yard line.

To borrow a line from Super Bowl halftime act The Who, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter wasn't going to get fooled again. Porter jumped the route for an interception he took 74 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

"[Wayne] said Porter squatted on the play," said Manning, who spoke with his favorite target after getting trucked by Saints defensive end Will Smith during the return. "I give [Porter] a lot of credit. It was a different formation than the plays before. That's been a good play for us all year long."

It was a great year for Manning until Sunday night. He already had earned an NFL-record fourth Most Valuable Player award during the regular season. Had he beaten the Saints, Manning could have staked a legitimate claim to the greatest season ever by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Not to be. While he had his moments in a 31-of-45, 333-yard passing performance, Manning was outplayed by Brees just like Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell was outcoached by Sean Payton.

"We never got into a great rhythm," Manning said. "There certainly were some lapses in our time of possession. It was strange after that."

Manning is referring to one of the odder momentum shifts in Super Bowl history. The Colts jumped to a 10-0 lead on a 38-yard Matt Stover field goal and beautifully thrown 19-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon.

That was the last pass Manning would complete for 70 minutes in real time. The Colts ran only six second-quarter plays after being unable to convert two third downs, including a Garcon drop. The Saints consumed 12:26 of clock, then opened the second half with a successful onside kick that led to a 58-yard scoring drive and lead change.

"We had a chance to possess the ball," Manning said of that stretch. "It's our job to score."

Manning didn't apologize for not sticking around to congratulate Saints players but did offer an explanation for the hasty exit.

"I certainly know how it was three years ago when we won," Manning said. "There's not much consolation for the guys who didn't win. There's the stage being set up and the celebration. It's time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field.

"I certainly congratulate all their players and the Saints organization. I'll speak to Drew and Sean. They deserve all the credit."

Even if he wasn't ready to immediately give it while the confetti was flying.