There’s no one to credit with the brilliance of the game the Colts played other than Manning, because he calls the plays at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback who had been known for the games he lost with big interceptions that came from trying to do too much, had learned to win those games by doing just enough. Manning threw one interception early in the game and made very few mistakes the rest of the way. He took the three-pointers and accepted that some drives would end with punts, trusting in the Colts’ defense to hold the Bears and give him another chance.
Manning didn’t put up spectacular numbers in every playoff game, but he won them all. He took out the Ravens with five field goals and beat the Patriots in a game the Colts didn’t lead until the game’s final minute. His performance was better than a statistical tour de force; it was masterful.
Yes, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw each won four Super Bowls, but they did it in a different era, one in which franchises could assemble great teams and keep them together through the primes of their greatest players. That era is gone. The salary cap dictates that the half life of any great team is very short. You can no more keep a roster intact over five to eight seasons than you can rake the water out of a bath tub.
You can argue that Tom Brady’s three rings belie that reality, and in a way it does. But even the Patriots are showing signs of decay. They were eliminated from the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and this year Manning beat them twice, once during the regular season and once when it counted, in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots have been a testament to great coaching and a great quarterback, but they aren’t invincible; no one is.
The Colts will be powerful again next season, and it is very possible that they will be back in the Super Bowl. Manning has just reached full maturity and could win one or more rings.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
He won the big game some doubted he’d ever even get to. We said he had to do that to punch his ticket to immortality. We can’t ask for any more.
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