Peyton Manning couldn’t cap the greatest season any NFL quarterback ever had or secure his legacy as the best QB in history because his Denver Broncos came down with a case of the yips Sunday night.
They lost to Seattle in the Super Bowl 43-8 by falling behind right from the start and never recovering.
The bumbling Broncos trailed before Manning ever got his hands on the ball because Manny Ramirez’s bad snap went for a safety 12 seconds into the game.
“It was a crazy start,” Manning said, “Not the way you expect to start the game.”
It only got worse for the league’s most prolific point producers who scored 606 of ’em in the regular season, then dominated the AFC in the playoffs but mustered only Demaryius Thomas’ 14-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter at MetLife Stadium.
“We couldn’t get it to swing, man,” left tackle Chris Clark said. “We tried, but they just played better than we did (Sunday). It didn’t shift. We didn’t play Broncos football. When you got a good thing going, you want to finish it off and we didn’t do that.”
Dominated in every way, the Broncos (15-4) trudged through the tunnel trailing 22-0 at halftime, then watched Percy Harvin return the second-half kickoff for a TD.
“You’ve got to play well in this game to win it,” said Broncos boss John Elway, who lost Super Bowls by scores of 39-20, 42-10 and 55-10 during his Hall of Fame playing career before winning his last two.
Elway returned to rescue his beloved Broncos in 2011 after the franchise foundered and his biggest coup was luring Manning to Denver.
Over his two seasons in Colorado, Manning engineered the greatest comeback in NFL history: recovering from neck fusion surgery that weakened his throwing arm to win his fifth MVP award this season when he set records by throwing for 55 TDs and 5,447 yards.
But he couldn’t match that with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history after falling behind 36-0.
“I will tell you this: it’s hard to get things turned around against a great defense like that,” Elway said. “They are a great defense. So, that’s why you can’t afford to lose the momentum because to try to flip it on a great defense is always hard.”
This was easily Manning’s worst day since trading the blue and white horseshoe of the Indianapolis Colts for the orange-mane mustang of Denver. He was sacked for the first time in the playoffs, threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, lost a fumble and turned it over on downs.
The bumbling Broncos finally found the end zone when Thomas made a leaping, twisting grab of Manning’s 14-yard pass — his 100th TD toss for Denver. But he needed a lot more of those to keep up with the efficient Russell Wilson, who didn’t commit any turnovers and kept plays alive with his legs and pinpoint passes.
“They outplayed us in every facet,” tight end Jacob Tamme said.
Thomas caught 13 passes for 118 yards but he also had a fumble as Denver was driving in the third quarter.
Denver was missing five defensive starters who are on IR that might have made this a fairer fight — Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr.
“We just didn’t play like we’re capable of,” Elway said. “It’s disappointing. But we had a great year. And hopefully we’ll learn from this. But it started tough and we just couldn’t seem to get it going.
“It’s one of those nights. We had a tremendous year and we’ll hopefully learn from this and we’re going to go at it again next year.”
Terrance Knighton, who helped hold Marshawn Lynch to 2.6 yards a carry, was already looking forward to that.
“It’ll be the 2014 season before you know it,” he said. “It’ll sting for a little bit tonight and maybe for a few more days but we’ll have to bounce back.”