It was Peyton Manning’s first playoff game as a Bronco. Colts fans dusted off their number 18 jerseys (some for the first time this season) and settled in to cheer on their old friend. We were just happy to have a horse in the game. Literally. And we couldn’t wait to see Peyton send Ray Lewis into retirement. He was like our big brother…seeking revenge on the Ravens, who had just knocked our Colts out of the playoffs.
The game started with a stifling performance by the Broncos defense and a Ravens punt returned for a touchdown. Peyton Manning was jumping up and down on the sideline like a kid in a candy store. I swear, I had never seen Peyton look…giddy. But then again, he wasn’t used to special teams plays resulting in touchdowns. At least, not for him.
The Broncos were off to a great start. But then, the defense gave up a big play. There was a breakdown in the offensive line. Peyton threw to a Ravens defender for a touchdown. And he had a fumble (that unlike Tom Brady, the Tuck Rule couldn’t save him from). And all at once, I got a sinking feeling. This game was taking on a familiar feel. Too familiar.
The Ravens started picking away at the Broncos offense. Ray Rice started pulling apart the Broncos defense. There were repeated defensive penalties, accusations of safe coaching, and some questionable play calling (which is ironic, because Jim Caldwell was on the other side of the field). The only thing missing was a Dallas Clark drop in the end zone. I didn’t just recognize this game…I had lived it. Many, many times.
The game ended for the Broncos the same way it did for the Colts. With a somber looking Peyton Manning press conference, saying it was “disappointing.” There were some throws he’d “like to have back.” They “didn’t get it done.” And “it stings.”
In the end, the Broncos playoff loss looked a lot more like a Colts playoff loss than even the Colts did this year.
Broncos fans, I feel your pain. I have been there, literally. More times than you will ever be. And it hurts. Bad.
But, know this. For all the heartbreaking Peyton Manning playoff defeats, all it takes is that one victory to make you forget (well, almost). But in the end, it won’t be the wins or losses you remember. It will the ride he took you on. At least, that’s what I remember. And oh, what a ride it was…
I’ll be pulling for you next season.