'Resilient' Broncos deliver fitting finale for Manning
A blizzard of golden tickertape engulfed Peyton Manning as he savoured what was surely his last rodeo.
Seven weeks shy of his 40th birthday, the man widely heralded as among the finest quarterback of his generation signed off with a second Super Bowl ring as a sterling, swarming defensive effort propelled the Denver Broncos to a 24-10 triumph against the Carolina Panthers.
Truth be told, the Broncos prevailed as much in spite of Manning as because of him. He did not produce a touchdown pass all game, relying instead on colossal shifts by outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to bring about this glorious farewell.
It was an error-strewn, chaotic Super Bowl on Sunday night, with defences dominating as Denver forced a record-equalling seven sacks on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to seize the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Not that Manning cared, as he used the post-match ceremony to underscore his status as an all-American icon. He thanked God, he thanked his team-mates, he thanked his wife.
For his young, exuberant opposite number Newton, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara was a torture chamber. The 26-year-old, the most valuable player in the league this season, was bullied and harried throughout, never able to display the verve central to a remarkable Panthers campaign in which they had lost just one game prior to Super Bowl 50. He sloped away from his post-match press conference, offering nothing but: "We got outplayed, bro. I don't know what else you expect me to say."
This was a time for dwelling on a few more of Manning's milestones. Not only did the five-time MVP expunge the agonies of 2014, when the Broncos were shredded 43-8 by Seattle, he also became the first player in league history to register 200 wins. There was poetry, too, in the rarity value of ending a stellar career with Super Bowl glory. The only other figure to have taken his leave in this way was John Elway, a Denver immortal.
"It is very special," Manning said. "The game was much like our season. It tested our toughness, resilience, unselfishness. It's only fitting that it turned out this way."
Even if Manning emphasised that he would take a few days to contemplate retirement, the decision is inescapable. While this win was an apt book-end for his 19 years at the pinnacle of his profession, his display was littered with mistakes, showcasing none of the lethal arm strength that used to be his trademark. He has a delicate neck and a fragile shoulder.
The timing is right to depart, if only for self-preservation.
As it transpired, he had nothing to worry about from Newton, who was made to look abject by Denver's unrelenting pressure. By the end, he barely had the confidence to fashion a pass, so little faith did he have in the ability of his offensive tackles to offer protection.
Newton could watch as many videos of the opposition as he liked, but nothing prepared him for this. The tirelessness of Denver was best illustrated by the sight of Ware steamrollering Michael Oher to sack Newton from his blind side. Duly, Malik Jackson scooped up the ball for a score that gave the Broncos a 10-0 lead, after Brandon McManus' early field goal.
The Panthers fleetingly struck back through Jonathan Stewart but they then sank into an unholy concoction of mistakes and misfortune. They might have realised their night was doomed when kicker Graham Gano, a native of Arbroath who has claimed it was once his dream to play against England at Hampden Park, watched his 44-yard field-goal attempt ricochet off the goal post.
The last word fell to CJ Anderson, channelling brute strength to roll over Luke Kuechly for the decisive score. For Manning, the celebrations could begin. No longer would he have to endure the taunts that he was less successful than his younger brother Eli, who has also won two Super Bowls with the New York. "There is a great sense of accomplishment," he said. It is one he deserves to relish. (© Daily Telegraph, London)