Peyton Manning's golden opportunity

Peyton's Colts, of course, lost Super Bowl XLIV to Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints 31-17 (after beating Mark Sanchez's New York Jets 30-17 in Indy for the AFC title). The Colts were a five-point favorite over a New Orleans team with the No. 1 offense but just the 25th-ranked defense. Degree of difficulty: five.

Most memorable moment: The Colts were driving to tie the score at 24 when, with 3:24 left, Peyton's pass intended for Wayne was intercepted by Tracy Porter and returned 74 yards for the game-breaking TD. Hall of … Blame?

Last season, his first in Denver, Peyton did what Peyton often does, delivering the AFC's No. 1 seed off a 13-3 regular season. And Peyton did his part to build a 35-28 lead over eventual Super Bowl champ Baltimore. But, with 31 seconds left, a 70-yard Hail Flacco TD pass forced overtime.

And in the second overtime, the Greatest Regular-Season Quarterback Ever made a shockingly poor decision, throwing a lifeless pass back across his body into the strength of the defense. That interception set up Baltimore's winning field goal. That didn't exactly reek of greatness.

Reminder: Montana went 4-for-4 in Super Bowls and (I thought) deserved all four MVPs. Jerry Rice (11 catches for 215 yards) was MVP of Super Bowl XXIII even though Montana threw for 357 yards, including the winning 10-yard TD pass with 34 seconds left.

So, how much has Peyton rebuilt his legacy this postseason? No doubt the pressure was Rocky Mountain high after he yet again lifted the 13-3 Broncos to the No. 1 seed with the greatest statistical season ever. Against division nemesis San Diego, a 7.5-point underdog, Peyton did save the game with a late clutch throw on third-and-17 from his 20-yard line -- a 21-yard out to Julius Thomas after the Chargers blew the coverage and left him wide open.

And cold, hard fact: After the Patriots lost their Richard Sherman -- Aqib Talib -- four plays into the second quarter on what Bill Belichick basically called a Wes Welker cheap shot, Peyton should have won and did, 26-16.

Not only was Peyton unsacked in either home game, he was touched only once in each game. Seattle is tied for eighth in sacks.

In his record-smashing regular season, Peyton faced only four defenses in the top half of the league -- the highest being the Houston Texans' seventh-ranked defense. Now comes Seattle's D, ready to make a case that it deserves some all-time respect.

Big picture, Peyton at 37 hasn't received nearly enough credit for battling back from four neck procedures and not being able to throw a ball 10 yards. What a second act. And, Colts fans, I have not eased off my stance that your team made an all-time mistake easing Peyton out the back door in favor of Andrew Luck. Peyton just keeps putting his team in premium positions to make Super Bowl runs.

Now Sherman's team has fallen from Super Bowl heaven into Peyton's path. Now, a week from Sunday, it could feel as if Peyton Manning wins two or three Super Bowls that night. I'll be rooting for him.

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