SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It’ll look like a ring in the box score.
If this was Peyton Manning’s final game, it will not be known not for a spectacular performance, but for what matters most — that that he went out a winner. Struggling throughout the game, Manning was best at avoiding disaster as the Denver Broncos’ defense all but handed him his second championship ring with a dominating performance in a 24-10 victory over the favored Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. He was 13-of-23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. His 56.6 passer rating was the fourth lowest for a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
And typical of his nature, he did everything he could to put the focus on his team and his teammates rather than himself or his future.
“It’s a great feeling,” Manning said. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment for this team — we’ve been through a lot this year. This team has been unselfish, tough, resilient and I think that was all on display tonight.
“I got a chance to talk to the team [Saturday] night and I kind of thanked them for letting me be a part of the journey. It’s truly been a team effort and it was a team win tonight.”
At 39, Manning became the oldest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl ring. It sure seems like a perfect scenario for him to retire on top. But he wasn’t about to detract from the moment by even hinting at a decision.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Manning said after the game. “Tony Dungy … said he got some good advice from Dick Vermeil and I think maybe Bill Cowher about not making an emotional decision one way or the other. I think that’s was good advice to kind of let it sink in.
“It’s been an emotional night and the night is just beginning. I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family and I think I’ll take some time after that. I’m going to take it one step at a time.”
If they know something, Manning’s teammates did a nice job of keeping the secret.
“I was kind of half-expecting him to tell us what the deal was, said tight end Owen Daniels, whose 18-yard catch from Manning on the Broncos’ first offensive play of the game led to a field goal and a 3-0 lead. “But he’s the type of guy, he doesn’t want the attention on him. He wants the focus on the team. he doesn’t want us worrying about doing something extra for him. This was a team true team this year.
“I hope it’s not his last one, but if it is is he deserves to go out this way.
Manning and the Broncos’ offense squandered several opportunities to take control of the game. The Broncos were 1-for-14 on third-down conversions. They did not score a touchdown until C.J. Anderson’s two-yard run that made it 24-10 on a drive that was set up Von Miller sack and forced fumble. But Manning was under no illusion that he was going to carry the Broncos to this title.
“In the meeting that night,” said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, “he said, ‘If we’re going to win this game, the defense has to play well. We’re going to score enough points to win the game. But it’s going to be on your guys backs to win the game,’ And you can see that whole game, we were running, playing well, doing what we needed to do, and it’s sort of gratifying to close — you never know if Peyton’s going to come back next year — and to have him go out on top.”
“This is a true team all season,” Daniels said. “We knew what we had to do offensively. wanted to be a little more clean obviously and put up more points. But I’m so glad Peyton got another one.”
Manning might have retired even if the Broncos had not won. But winning the Super Bowl makes it that much easier to leave on top.
“Probably so,” Anderson said. “I don’t know. He hasnt’ talked to me about it. But if he does, he went out with a bang.”