Peyton Manning should have retired ... Saturday
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist February 2, 2014 9:58PM
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Updated: February 3, 2014 10:00AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — I remember watching Peyton Manning play quarterback in practice at the University of Tennessee. It seems like almost two decades ago, and — holy Omaha! — it was.
He was young, wandering around behind the line of scrimmage, yelling and pointing like somebody who had dropped the pages to his term paper.
Nothing really has changed since he was the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year in 1994 and the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1997, except that now he gets paid a lot of money to do what he always did.
So when Manning walked toward the line of scrimmage on the Denver Broncos’ first offensive play, hollering as usual, it was shocking to see center Manny Ramirez snap the ball prematurely over Manning’s right shoulder. The ball rolled untouched into the end zone, where Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.
Ugly? How about fastest-score-in-Super Bowl-history ugly.
Something bad was unfolding here, something like never before. Stupid screw-ups happen, but do they happen to Hall of Fame-to-be quarterbacks under the brightest spotlight?
They shouldn’t. They can’t. Not if you’re Manning and you want to bury what few nagging criticisms there are of your play.
Such as, back in college, why did you always throw those interceptions against Florida? And how come Tennessee didn’t win a national championship until the year after you left? Speaking of which, why does your little brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli, have two Super Bowl rings and you have only one?
Now you’re 1-2 in Super Bowls in which you’ve played. Is that like Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw or Tom Brady? No, it’s only one victory more than Vince Ferragamo, David Woodley and Rex Grossman.
So the Broncos trailed 2-0 a mere 12 seconds into the game. No big deal.
Except that something was wrong with Manning. Not an injury, just wrong. Something was wrong with the entire Broncos team. Its undisputed leader looked nervous, unprepared, scatter-armed and — dare we say it? — confused.
Soon enough, it was 5-0. Then 8-0.
Then Manning, who only had been involved in six plays, threw an interception on his seventh. The Seahawks scored a touchdown off the turnover and led 15-0.
On the next series, Manning threw an interception that Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith returned 69 yards for a touchdown for a 22-0 lead.
This was beyond weird. It was kind of sad, edging toward pathetic.
‘‘It was a bitter pill to swallow,’’ Manning agreed afterward.
In the first quarter, he was 3-for-4 for 10 yards and an interception. His passer rating was 37.5. At the half, the man who threw for NFL records of 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns during the regular season had 104 yards passing with two interceptions. Somehow, his passer rating was only 46.3. He ended at 73.5, worse than any season rating he has had since he was a battered rookie with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
Of course, Manning can’t run. But shouldn’t he be more than a statue? Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson spun free from the pocket many times and extended plays that were dead. That’s what a 25-year-old athlete can do that a 37-year-old veteran can’t.
Manning is supposed to have the type of brain that negates all things physical, but the Seahawks’ defense freaked him out. He threw low, high, to the wrong man. One of his worst plays occurred late in the second quarter, when he threw to triple-covered Demaryius Thomas while Wes Welker was doing jumping jacks 20 yards down the left side.
Manning would end up with a Super Bowl-record 34 completions, but almost none of them meant anything. It was that first-play bad snap that lingered. Why would that happen, the center launching the ball when Manning didn’t know it was coming, even though he had been doing the same thing forever?
‘‘For whatever reason, we couldn’t get much going after that,’’ Manning said.
The whole game, that is.
‘‘In many of his pre-snap gyrations, he is sorting through what the defense might do,’’ Sports Illustrated wrote of Manning in its pregame analysis. ‘‘He’s looking for things that geometry guarantees a defense can’t do.’’
Well, the Seahawks did everything to him, including hitting his arm and forcing him to fumble with 3:44 to go.
Sorry, Peyton. You could have retired Saturday.
You should have.