Denver, CO- For the second time in the last three years, the Denver Broncos have gone one-and-done in the playoffs. Any playoff loss casts glaring questions into the limelight, but when the loss comes at home, following a first-round bye, it only intensifies the hue and cry.
Right now, the din is overwhelming. And for Peyton Manning, the loss seems to be causing him to reconsider his future place with the Broncos and in the NFL. As much as he loves to play football, does he really have the gumption to endure all of the off-season scrutiny?
Losing in such a fashion takes a toll on the individual, just as it does the collective team. Just a few weeks ago, Manning made his intentions for 2015 clear; he plans on returning.
But that was then. A lot has changed, and there's even more upheaval likely on the horizon. His post-game comments have plunged his future into uncertainty.
"Yeah, I guess I can't just give that simple answer," Manning said. "I'm processing it. So I can't say that. I could not say that."
Succinct. However, the members of the media gathered in the locker room wanted more. Dave Logan of 850 KOA pressed the issue.
"That's kind of what I've said all along," Manning said. "But I can't answer every what-if circumstance. What if you're not as healthy? What if certain coaches leave? I can't answer every what-if situation. I think I'll have to take some time to see how I feel, see how I feel physically."
At 38, almost 39 years old, Manning might not have the patience to endure a coaching change, if John Elway decides to part ways with head coach, John Fox. And what if his offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, leaves to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers or Atlanta Falcons?
Manning is a creature of habit. And as such, he craves stability. Continuity. Why suffer through the vagaries of a potentially new coaching staff; a new system?
If those are the cards he's dealt, Manning might decide to call it a career. At the end of the day, he's hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. He's a record five-time league MVP. He owns virtually every single-season and career passing record in the NFL. He has nothing left to prove. Or does he?
Would Peyton Manning choose to hang up his cleats, following such a sour loss? Not quite his style. Even so, most quarterbacks don't get the privilege of riding off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion, like his boss did, following the 1998 season.
There's no question that the Broncos have as talented of a roster as there is in the NFL. But for whatever reason, they weren't able to put it together and translate it into post-season success this year. Manning certainly recognizes that. Will it be enough to motivate him to ride again in 2015?
Again, he's almost 39 years old. And a 39 year old's body simply does not recover from injury with the same rapidity as a young man's. Manning's been nursing a thigh injury for weeks.
“I had the one thigh injury," Manning said. "Somebody said today two thigh injuries. That would be news to me. So I had that one thigh injury that I had in the San Diego game. It’s hung around but I felt like I tried to manage it. I felt like I could manage it. Completed some passes, won some games with it. So just—it hung around, just that one thigh, but there is nothing more to it than that. And I thought—felt good with it coming into the day.”
Following tonight's game, where he struggled to find a rhythm and flat out fell short, he's not going to blame his performance on his health. He says he felt good going into the game, and we should take him at his word. Manning knows he did not rise to the occasion with all the chips down.
“Didn’t play well enough. I give them a lot of credit. Their defense played well and their defense forced us into some bad execution, but I thought we had some chances as well and I thought I could have played better.”
Still, if his thigh was bugging him, Manning's not the type to blame his performance, or lack thereof, on injury. He'll take his lumps on the chin, just like he does on the grid-iron.
For now, Peyton Manning needs to "process" what happened today and evaluate his future plans from there. Right now, Denver is mired in a knee-jerk myopia. It's never wise to make decisions in such an atmosphere.
Manning will take his time in deciding his future. He does have 19 million reasons to return to the Broncos and strive for the Lombardi Trophy at least one more time. We probably shouldn't doubt the veracity of that motive.