Irsay said it was a “nice” conversation, no suggestion of regret from anyone about the historical move Irsay made in March of 2012 to release quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Colts’ boss has admitted it was the most difficult decision he has ever had to make.
When Irsay exited the Colts’ celebratory locker room after a stirring 24-13 AFC Divisional playoff upset of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning Sunday, the owner didn’t boast about this victory being vindication.
“I knew it was the right thing to do for the Colts,” Irsay said. “It was the right move to make. Peyton and I talked about it. He said it best in the (farewell) press conference — I didn’t decide, he didn’t decide, the football gods had laid the cards out and we both knew it was best for him and us.”
While the buzz about the underdog Colts shifts to an AFC Championship Game challenge next Sunday at New England, Manning was left to answer questions about if this game would be his last.
“I guess I can’t just give that simple answer,” the five-time NFL MVP said. “I’m processing it. So I can’t say that. I could not say that.”
This much was clear: The Colts have a bright future with the quarterback who replaced Manning, Andrew Luck. It took Manning seven years to win three playoff games. Luck has reached that total in three seasons.
Luck had one more turnover than Manning in this game, but every other important statistical number was better. Luck completed 27-of-43 passes for 265 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Manning completed 26-of-46 passes for 211 yards with one touchdown, a lost fumble and he was sacked twice. Luck wasn’t sacked once.
“They did a good job on third down; they’ve done a good job on third down all season,” Manning said. Your’e got to execute. You’ve got to be sharp in your execution. Got to be able to make plays. I didn’t think I made enough plays and offensively we just thought that they were better than us on third down.
The Colts converted just five-of-13 third downs (38 percent), but perhaps more telling was the fact that the Broncos converted just four-of-16 (25 percent).
“We knew it was going to be 60 minutes,” Irsay said. “We knew it was going to be tough. I’m so proud of the guys. So many matches we needed to win, and Andrew just played unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Irsay had said during the week the Colts would need to play their best game of the season to prevail.
“The quarterbacks, they get a lot of credit and they get a lot of responsibility for winning and losing,” he said. “But, it’s a complete team effort. Again, just like in our Super Bowl run in (2007), we had to go into Baltimore and win — we didn’t look at it any differently. It was a team we had to beat to get to where we wanted to go.”
And his Manning decision proved to be the best one for his franchise. The Colts have won 11 regular-season games in three consecutive seasons. They’ve reached the AFC title game in just three years after a 2-14 implosion in 2011, when Manning underwent four neck procedures and didn’t play a snap.
“A lot of people, again, forget how much cap problems we had going into ’12,” Irsay said, “and it would have been impossible to have gone any other way.
“But you’re right — emotionally, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. In professional football, it’s about winning and you have to be able to make the decisions that are best for the franchise.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.