Published January 13, 2015
Shouldering the load is part of the gig and Peyton Manning knew it long before Baltimore upset him and the Broncos in the AFC Divisional round at a frigid Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday.
Win and the potential MVP was going to get more credit than he deserved and lose, well let's just say it was going to get ugly.
The Tweets came at a fast and furious pace after Justin Tucker's 47-yard field goal, 1:42 into the second overtime ended the fifth longest game in NFL history with the Ravens on top 38-35.
Some pointed out that Tim Tebow has more playoff wins as a Broncos quarterback than Manning. Others went to Peyton's problems in the cold weather, and many more were questioning the overall playoff acumen of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Another elite signal-caller, who lost later on Saturday, probably put it better than anyone.
"The regular season is about earning your paycheck and the playoffs are about defining your legacy," Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers opined before being outplayed by second-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.
Manning is now 9-11 in the postseason and the narrative is starting to morph with some calling the University of Tennessee product the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time with an asterisk stating he can't get it done when it really counts.
Logic says neither Manning or Rodgers have anything to be ashamed of today.
The main culprit in Denver's loss was its overmatched secondary, particularly the overrated Champ Bailey and free safety Rahim Moore, who both kept letting Ravens receivers get on top of them. The Packers, meanwhile, are booking flights out of Titletown because the 49ers offensive line evidently though it was at an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast with the Green Bay front seven playing the role of speed bump on the way to Denny's.
Rodgers, though, didn't make any egregious errors in a 45-32 thumping by the Niners while the last thing most Broncos fans will remember is Manning's awful Brett Favre-like pass across his body, one that was intercepted by the Ravens' Corey Graham and set up Tucker's game-winner.
Mile High had been in celebration mode earlier. Baltimore was 70 yards away from the game-tying TD with 41 seconds to go in regulation and no timeouts remaining before Joe Flacco dropped back and lofted a long pass down the right sideline in Jacoby Jones' direction.
It was a desperation heave but in a stunning breakdown of situational football, Moore allowed Jones to get deeper than him and compounded that error by badly misplaying the throw in the air before Jones' snared it and raced untouched for the startling score.
"At that point in the game when you don't have any timeouts and you've got to go a pretty decent length, you've got to start taking shots at some point," said Flacco. "It happened to work out."
Then, despite possessing, perhaps, the smartest quarterback in the game Broncos coach John Fox elected to take a knee and opt for overtime after the subsequent kickoff despite still owning two timeouts.
"Unless you're hoisting that Lombardi Trophy at the end, it's disappointing," said Fox. "We had plenty of opportunities in this game, we just came up short."
Neither team generated much offense over its initial drive of the first extra session. Denver induced another punt on Baltimore's second series, and got a pair of first downs to advance to its own 38 upon regaining possession. Manning then threw behind Brandon Stokley on the next snap, with Graham coming up with a diving interception at the Broncos' 45.
"In the clutch, guys want to get first downs and move the chains and put the team in position to win the game, so you can be a little more aggressive on defense and make a play," said Graham. "Someone had to do it and I was fortunate enough to be the one today."
"Bad throw," is how Manning described it.
"Probably the decision (wasn't) great, either," the All-Pro continued. "I thought I had an opening, and I didn't get enough on it, and I was trying to make a play."
An 11-yard run by Ray Rice on the last play of the first overtime got the Ravens into Tucker's range, and the workhorse back would churn out three more yards before John Harbaugh summoned the rookie kicker, who calmly split the uprights to extend the AFC North champions' season.
"It definitely stings," Manning understated.
Denver, which earned the AFC's No. 1 overall seed by winning its final 11 regular-season tests, suffered its first postseason loss at home since a 30-27 ousting by Jacksonville in a 1996 Divisional Playoff.
Manning, who entered the matchup having bested the Ravens nine consecutive times -- including a pair of playoff bouts during his long and storied tenure with the Colts -- threw for three touchdowns while accumulating 290 yards and completing 28-of-43 attempts.
But people will only remember his last throw to Graham.
After all, Manning is not Moore or Fox or even Bailey -- he's the four-time MVP and the future Hall of Famer.
Yet, his teams have made the postseason 12 times now and have been one-and- done on eight different occasions. Manning's record in postseason games played in temperatures below 40 degrees is now 0-4 and he emulated Favre more than one way on Saturday, matching the noted gunslinger for the most playoff losses by a starting quarterback in NFL history.
"We did a lot of good things tonight, we really did," Manning said. "It's a stout [Baltimore] defense with a lot of veteran playmakers and guys that have been in a lot of big games. We did a lot of good things and certainly there's plays that I'd like to have back, but that's just football."