DENVER (AP) – Usually more comfortable in the pocket, Peyton Manning scrambled to his right to avoid pressure.
And usually so accurate, the Denver Broncos quarterback threw a pass across his body – an ill-advised toss he’s gotten away with a few times over his career.
This time, he wouldn’t.
Late in the first overtime, Manning tried to thread the ball to Brandon Stokley, only to have the pass intercepted by Corey Graham. A few plays after switching sides to start the second extra period, Justin Tucker hit a 47-yard field goal to help the Baltimore Ravens rally for a 38-35 win in an AFC divisional game on a bitterly cold Saturday.
Like that, Manning was once again left out in the cold. He’s now 0-4 in playoff games in which the temperature at kickoff is less than 40 degrees.
Manning even wore gloves on each hand to fight off the frigid conditions as temperatures that started out at 13 degrees dipped into single-digits. He heated up, too, only to cool off at the end.
“I wouldn’t say I’m shocked,” he said. “That’s not the right word. I’m disappointed.”
Soon after, the Ravens snapped the Broncos’ 11-game winning streak and ended Manning’s impressive comeback from four neck operations that kept him out all of last season.
“I accomplished a lot more this year than I thought I would have and I think the team exceeded expectations as well,” Manning said.
To add insult, it was here, in this stadium, where Manning’s predecessor, Tim Tebow, connected with Demaryius Thomas for a game-winning TD in overtime against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season.
“I don’t feel sorry for us,” Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “We just didn’t make the plays we’ve been making all year. We’ve just got to get the job done.”
After Tucker’s kick, Manning began a slow walk to the other side of the field, where he worked his way into a circle of reporters that surrounded Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. Once inside, he gave Lewis a quick hug before trudging off the field.
Lewis will play another week, his retirement party on hold.
Manning, well, his season is done. He made a costly throw at a costly time. Just like former Minnesota QB Brett Favre, who threw a bad pass in the NFC championship game against New Orleans three years ago that was intercepted and ultimately resulted in a loss.
“He (Manning) is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and for us to come in here and confuse him the way we did, and make the plays we did?” Lewis said. “We gave up two big special teams touchdowns, but the bottom line is, but we kept fighting.”
The speedy Trindon Holliday had a big afternoon as he became the first player in the postseason to return both a kick and a punt for a touchdown.
And, still, it wasn’t enough.
Manning finished 28 of 43 for 290 yards and three scores. But more memorable than those touchdowns will be his fumble and two picks.
Fumbles happen, especially when being sacked and trying to tuck the football back against his body. The play was reviewed and the ruling of fumble upheld. Not that Manning expected anything different.
“Probably a fumble,” Manning said. “I tried to kind of double-clutch and I lost the fumble. … It was certainly a possession I’d like to have back.”
A familiar theme for Manning on this day.
And that first interception? That happens, too – it was tipped and Graham returned it for a 39-yard score.
The other interception, though, that’s a throw he’s made a handful of times over his 15-year career, especially with good friend Stokley the one running the route.
“Bad throw,” explained Manning, who’s thrown 32 postseason TD passes, which is tied for fourth all-time with Dan Marino. “Probably the decision (wasn’t) great, either. I thought I had an opening and I didn’t get enough on it. I was trying to make a play and it’s certainly a throw I’d like to have back.”
After all, one of Manning’s most memorable completions in this comeback season was a TD toss at Carolina in November, where he rolled to his right, stopped and twisted, then threw across the field to Stokley.
NFL Films had Manning hooked up for sound that day. Coming off the field, he called that throw an example of “Rule No. 1 that you never do.” But, Manning told Stokley, sometimes you throw caution to the wind.
This time, it didn’t work out.
Now, Manning has an entire offseason to think about breaking “Rule No. 1.”
“It’s a grind,” Manning said. “It does require a lot of work and a lot of energy. That’s why it’s disappointing, because of how much hard work and effort and time and extra meetings and extra workouts we put in to get to this point. That’s part of it.
“You want it to go perfect and to win and keep going, but it’s not the way it always works.”
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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