By Ernie Palladino
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Ideally, Super Bowl 50 would have been a sunset game for Peyton Manning.
The quarterback, who won his record 200th game overall in the Broncos’ 24-10 win over Cam Newton’s new-age style Panthers, would have walked out of the league with a stack of statistics and his second Super Bowl MVP award.
That’s what would have happened under perfect circumstances. But life isn’t perfect, and even the greats don’t always get what they want.
Sometimes, they simply have to say “Thank you” to others. In Manning’s case, he’ll send a big one to the Broncos’ defense, the unit that shut down Newton while Carolina’s equally ferocious defense made Eli’s 39-year-old brother into what he was in what was surely his final on-field appearance: an old slinger trying hard to figure it out one last time.
He never quite did. Manning, with a record 539 touchdown passes, threw not a single one. In fact, he barely mounted a touchdown drive. The first score came on defense, off Von Miller’s strip sack that Malik Jackson recovered in the end zone. The second came on a 2-yard run by C.J. Anderson, capping a 4-yard drive that T.J. Ward’s recovery of Miller’s second strip-sack of the game created.
His most important completion of the game was the one he threw to Bennie Fowler on the two-point conversion that followed Anderson’s TD with 3:08 remaining.
He did throw an interception, and he lost one of the two fumbles that dribbled out of his hand. So, in the end, at what could well have been the final ride of his great rodeo, he had as pedestrian a Super Bowl as anyone could imagine.
That’s OK. It’s the ring that counts, and Manning now has two of them.
Just like his brother.
Miller earned the other piece of hardware, the MVP trophy, so Eli will always have that over Peyton. No matter.
But Miller was all over the place, swarming with DeMarcus Ware and the others to force Newton’s high running and throwing gears into neutral.
The Panthers’ quarterback made a few plays downfield to Ted Ginn, Jr. and Corey Brown. He sprinted around for 45 yards on six carries. But in the end, his numbers were just as harmless as the old pro’s — 18-for-41, 265 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
Newton will, of course, have other chances. He stands at the relative beginning of his career.
Manning is probably done, though he was reluctant to admit it after the game. He told interviewers simply that he had other, more immediate priorities to consider first, like kissing his wife, deciding how much Budweiser he would consume, and having a little chat with the big man upstairs.
If he truly hasn’t made his decision yet, it will come soon.
If he has any sense, he’ll get out while the getting is good. He is ordinary now, was ordinary throughout the season. But Miller and the rest of the defense allowed him to complete his list: two rings, and passing newest Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for sole possession of the all-time wins record.
As for Miller, on top of earning Manning’s everlasting gratitude, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent linebacker should prepare himself for a slew of calls. One of them should certainly come from the Giants, a team in need of a quality linebacker. Miller said during the week that he’d love to come to the Meadowlands, an admission that should place his agent firmly on GM Jerry Reese’s speed dial.
Still, Super Bowl 50 was about Manning. Regardless of the lack of glittery stats and commanding performances, he gets to ride off into the sunset a winner, as it should be.
It wasn’t the perfect ending, but it was a good one, well-deserved after a long, illustrious career.
He simply had to thank his defense for making it happen.
It goes like that sometimes.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino