Manning Rides Off With a Win in What Could Be Final Game of Career (Photos)

February 7, 2016 Updated: February 7, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The best thing for Peyton Manning is that he won the Super Bowl.

A close second—he never has to lace ’em up again.

Constantly harassed, never quite comfortable—sort of the way the whole season has played out—Manning walked away with his second Super Bowl title Sunday night, after Denver’s defense all but handed him the Lombardi Trophy with a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Manning wouldn’t budge on whether this was, in fact, his last game.

Manning wouldn’t budge on whether this was, in fact, his last game.

“I’ll take some time to reflect,” he said. “I’ve got a couple priorities first. I’m going to go kiss my wife and kids.”

If he bothers watching his last game, he’ll see a quarterback who looked all of his 39 years and more.

He was creaky, off-target at times. He got bamboozled into his first interception of this year’s playoffs and could’ve thrown a few more had the Panthers’ defenders had better hands. Manning lost a fumble, as well.

Denver Broncos Peyton Manning (18) calls a play during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Denver Broncos Peyton Manning (18) calls a play during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Denver Broncos Peyton Manning (18) tosses the football as he is hit by Carolina Panthers Jared Allen (69) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Denver Broncos Peyton Manning (18) tosses the football as he is hit by Carolina Panthers Jared Allen (69) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Matt York)

His most important throw? A pass that flew 10 yards out of the end zone but drew a defensive holding call that set up the game-clinching touchdown. He also completed 13 passes for 141 yards and got the Broncos moving to start both halves.

That was more than enough. Those small wisps of offense were enough to set up a few field goals, keep the Broncos in good field position most of the night—then get the heck out of the way and let a smothering, historically good defense win this game with seven sacks and four turnovers.

Denver was on the verge of becoming the first team in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl to win without scoring a touchdown on offense. MVP Von Miller’s second strip of Cam Newton gave the Broncos at the Carolina 4. Three plays later, helped by the holding call, the Broncos had the touchdown and the game was over.

Manning became the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two franchises. He joined his brother, Eli, and 10 other quarterbacks as multiple Super Bowl winners. He’s been taking it week by week this year, insisting he’s not thinking about what he’ll do after the season. Now that it’s over, he’ll have to decide whether he wants to walk away on top—same as his boss, John Elway, did after he won his second title back in 1999.

Retirement?

Hard to imagine he’d want to come back, after guiding the Broncos to a full-team-effort title, the likes of which hardly anyone envisioned when Elway signed him four years ago.

Manning spent the first three of those years rewriting the record book. In Year 4, he was injured and diminished, and it turned into the best finish of the four.

He won the title this season playing the role of game manager. He won with a Super Bowl passer rating of 56.6 that, unbelievably, wasn’t that much lower than what he compiled this season.

A game like this that would normally send him scurrying to the film room, trying to figure out how to make things better for next week.

Next week doesn’t matter. Next year might not either.

Ugly, but beautiful.

“You get asked a lot of questions,” Manning said. “You reflect on the coaches, family members, friends who’ve helped you get to … this point. I’m very grateful. “

Retrospective

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning tosses  a warmup pass at Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida, October 3, 2004.  (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning tosses a warmup pass at Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida, October 3, 2004. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Quarterback Peyton Manning sets to throw a pass during the Volunteers 62-37 loss to the University of Florida at Florida Field in Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 16, 1995.  (Scott Halleran/Allsport)
Quarterback Peyton Manning sets to throw a pass during the Volunteers 62-37 loss to the University of Florida at Florida Field in Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 16, 1995. (Scott Halleran/Allsport)

 Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throws a touchdown pass to Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison during first quarter action in their game with the San Francisco 49ers 18 October in San Francisco,CA.  (MONICA M. DAVEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning throws a touchdown pass to Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison during first quarter action in their game with the San Francisco 49ers 18 October in San Francisco,CA. (MONICA M. DAVEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning calls a play in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles, 10 November 2002, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA. The Colts, nine point underdogs, beat the Eagles 35-13. (TOM MIHALEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning calls a play in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles, 10 November 2002, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA. The Colts, nine point underdogs, beat the Eagles 35-13. (TOM MIHALEK/AFP/Getty Images)

(L-R) Eli, Archie and Peyton Manning on the set during a Reebok commercial shoot on June 26, 2006 in North Caldwell, New Jersey.   (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Reebok)
(L-R) Eli, Archie and Peyton Manning on the set during a Reebok commercial shoot on June 26, 2006 in North Caldwell, New Jersey. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Reebok)

Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts stands in the tunnel during player introductions against the Philadelphia Eagles November 26, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts stands in the tunnel during player introductions against the Philadelphia Eagles November 26, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks on during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to press after Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8.  (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos speaks to press after Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos looks on from the sidelines during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Athens, Georgia.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos looks on from the sidelines during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

18 Apr 1998:  First overall pick Peyton Manning shows off his jersey after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York. (Jamie Squire  /Allsport)
18 Apr 1998: First overall pick Peyton Manning shows off his jersey after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York. (Jamie Squire /Allsport)

Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos stands on the sidelines during a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 14, 2014 in San Diego, California.  (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos stands on the sidelines during a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 14, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls a play during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls a play during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)