In the midst of the euphoria of the Colts' 24-13 victory in the Divisional Round was the heartbreak of the Broncos as they saw their season come to an end. And while the Colts were the victors and played a very good football game, the discussion has been centered around Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning. Namely, the question of if whether Sunday's game was his last game in the NFL as the retirement questions swirl.
When asked if he could say that he was definitely coming back next year, the 38-year old Manning replied, "I could not say that." He continued, saying that, "I can't answer every what-if circumstance. What if you're not as healthy? What if certain coaches leave? I can't answer every what-if situation. I think I'll have to take some time to see how I feel, see how I feel physically."
Back in 2011 when Manning's career was absolutely in doubt due to his neck injuries, there was a ton of uncertainty about whether he would play again. But even then, I never heard him as noncommittal publicly about his future as he was on Sunday night.
As tough as it is to realize, Peyton Manning is a 38-year old quarterback just a few years removed from serious neck surgeries who looked terrible on Sunday and has been playing the last month of the season injured. Just this morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Manning has been playing with a torn quad. It was pretty clear that something wasn't right, as Manning missed a lot of throws yesterday afternoon (it was one of the worst games I've ever seen him play).
The Broncos fans greeted him with a chorus of boos at times during Sunday's game, and 58% of Broncos fans who have voted so far on Mile High Report (as of 11:30 a.m. ET) actually voted that they don't want Manning back next season (there had been 6,750 total as of this article). Seriously - Manning was booed on Sunday at Mile High Stadium and in a poll of Broncos fans the majority say they don't want Peyton back.
Was it the last game of his incredible career? Did the final game come against his former team in the playoffs? It's too early to tell at this point, but there's a real chance. He'll be 39-years old by the start of next season and coming off of a torn quad, and that's in addition to having had neck surgeries a few years ago. I do think the injury played a big role in Manning's play on Sunday and in the last month, and those of us who had watched Peyton for a while clearly saw that he wasn't right even before Sunday's game. But there's real doubt about whether he'll return.
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who coached Manning for several years in Indianapolis, was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning and he said that he doesn't think that Manning wants to go out that way:
"I know how competitive he is and I know he's not going to want to go out with a loss," Dungy said (via the Indianapolis Star). "But we'll see what happens... I wouldn't be surprised (if he retires), but my guess is he's going to come back. I don't think he'll want to finish with a game like that."
Dungy continued, saying that, "what Peyton always does, he goes off, he's going to go hunting with Eli, he's going to go to a place with no cell phone service, he's going to take about 10 days and get away from everything and he'll make his decision. We're not going to know right away and the Broncos aren't going to know."
If Peyton Manning doesn't come back and decides to retire this offseason after taking the time to think about it talk it over with his family, it will be the end of one of the greatest careers in NFL history. And it would have ended with the final game being against his former Colts team in the playoffs - a team for which Manning is the greatest player in franchise history. Whenever he decides to retire he'll be universally welcomed back by Colts Nation, but right now, Colts fans are celebrating a huge playoff win over the Broncos with 25-year old quarterback Andrew Luck while the questions swirl in Denver - first and foremost about the future of Peyton Manning.