He was the oldest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl, and played like it. Peyton Manning, 39, threw for just 141 yards in Super Bowl 50; many of his balls wobbled, like ducks. He tossed no touchdown passes, threw an interception and turned the ball over on a fumble. In the fourth quarter, as Manning’s Denver Broncos held a tenuous 16-10 lead over the Carolina Panthers, the Denver coaching staff gave the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards marching orders: forget about passing yards. Hand the ball off, don’t screw things up, let the defense win Denver a Super Bowl. Commentators call such quarterbacks “game managers,” which is football code for “lousy player.”
Manning fulfilled his sparse duties, as the Broncos beat the Panthers, 24-10, behind one of the most dominant defensive efforts in Super Bowl history. Peyton Manning, it turns out, is the Peyton Manning of game managers.
After the game Manning mentioned, on two different occasions, that he wanted to just enjoy a few Budweisers before making any final decisions about his future on the field (he owns a stake in two AB InBev distributorships in Louisiana). But forget about the Bud Bowl for a second: this game was all Miller time. Broncos linebacker Von Miller, the second overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, turned the person picked ahead of him that year, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, into Mr. Irrelevant. Two Miller plays turned the game. In the first quarter, Miller nearly ripped the ball out of Newton’s hands and waltzed into the end zone: instead, Miller strip-sacked Newton and Denver’s Malik Jackson scooped the ball up for the touchdown, giving the Broncos as 10-0 lead. Then, in the fourth quarter with Carolina down by just six points, Miller stripped Newton again in the backfield. The Broncos recovered the fumble; a few plays later, C.J. Anderson scored Denver’s only offensive touchdown of the day, a 2-yard score, to stretch the lead to 22-10. The Broncos then made the two-point conversation; at that point Carolina, which failed to move the ball consistently all night long, was done.
Years from now, what will we remember from Super Bowl 50? Besides the weird NFL commercial featuring children singing about parental sex, not much; defensive wins championships, but rarely creates great drama (Malcolm Butler’s last-second interception a year ago aside). Manning had no real signature moment to hang is helmet on; in fact, if Miller hadn’t stripped Newton in the fourth, Denver might have won the Super Bowl without scoring an offensive touchdown. This was more than likely Manning’s last NFL game. All signs point to retirement: he said something about a last rodeo to Bill Belichick, he’s played for 18 seasons, had multiple neck surgeries, and now he can leave the game on top, with a second Super Bowl (little brother Eli lost the one bragging right he had on his alpha-male big bro, and looked pained about it).
But this wasn’t Michael Jordan winning the championship with his famous Last Shot. This was Miller and his mates on D giving Manning one final gift. He just was lucky to be on board.