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Peyton Manning is great, but not on this night

8:58 PM, Feb 2, 2014   |    comments
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Oh, Peyton Manning.

What a fine time for the Denver Broncos quarterback to have his worst game of the year.

With a championship on the line and more than 150 million worldwide viewers, Manning went Least Mode.

The first snap of the game whizzed past Manning as he attempted to set the table with his patented play-calling orchestrations at the line of scrimmage, and when Knowshon Moreno covered in the end zone for a safety, the Seattle Seahawks had a quick lead, two-zip, 12 seconds into the game.

Time for a quick legacy check. The facts are rather cruel. Manning has more regular-season MVP awards than anyone in history, and in 2013 passed for more TDs (55) and yards (5,477) in a season than anyone in history. And he owns dozens of other records.

Manning will still rank as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

He can try again next year to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls with two franchises.

But at the moment, Manning has a losing career postseason record (11-12) and a 1-2 Super Bowl mark. And he can't reverse the historical trend that mandates that great defenses manhandle great offenses and their marquee quarterbacks.

For my money, Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback in NFL history - and not because of his regular-season passing records. Montana's mark in Super Bowls is what puts him in that rareified air.

Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls with the 49ers, but also perfect in another sense that underscored his greatness. He never threw a pick in a Super Bowl, somehow always finding a way to protect the football when it mattered most.

The importance of that was underscored during Super Bowl XLVIII.

A legacy isn't determined by one game alone.

And in Manning's case, a deflating moment isn't all on the quarterback, either.

He had plenty of help with the Broncos' meltdown.

You may have imagined that Manning could be involved in the fastest opening score in Super Bowl history, but not quite like that. His center, Manny Ramirez, jumped the shotgun snap.

What an omen.

On Saturday night, it was officially revealed (finally) at a glitzy, made-for-TV NFL event, that Manning won his record fifth MVP award.

On Sunday night, he was treated like a scrub by the NFL's best defense.

Did someone mention ducks?

The first pick, late in the first quarter, was a wobbly throw over the middle that lost its way and fluttered over Julius Thomas' head. It landed softly into the hands of safety Kam Chancellor.

The next interception, late in the second quarter, was caused by speed-rushing Cliff Avril, who crashed into Manning as the pocket collapsed. The ball floated to Malcolm Smith - the same linebacker whose deflected pickoff in the end zone sealed the NFC title game victory against the San Francisco 49ers -- who ran it back 69 yards for the 22-zip lead.

It was the second-longest pick-six in Super Bowl history.

The longest? That was Tracey Porter's 74-yard interception late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLI, which sealed the New Orleans Saints victory.

Manning was the quarterback for that one, too.

The Broncos offensive line didn't allow its first sack of the postseason until the final four minutes of the Super Bowl.

Sometimes, statistics lie.

Manning was pestered all night long, moved off of that precious spot in the pocket by guys like Avril and Chris Clemons. He was forced into errors and bad throws, the timing disrupted in a bad way.

It was a night to remember, that's for sure.

Manning set a Super Bowl record against the Seahawks for completions in a game. And his favored target, Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record for receptions in a game.

But sometimes, the statistics lie.

And at the worst time.

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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