"Did you hear that? Listen."
That’s what we asked each other Sunday, as Peyton Manning led his Denver Bronco offense off the field once again.
It began as a low rumble, as if the 76,867 faithful at Sports Authority Field each wondered aloud, "What in the world is going on here?"
But as reality set in, as the Broncos lurched toward their 24-13 loss to the Colts, and as another Bronco offensive series ended as an exercise in futility, the rumble became unmistakable, clear, direct.
Peyton Manning was being booed.
Go ahead, try and sugarcoat it if you will. They were only booing the offenses’ ineptitude, and Manning was only a part of the problem. And certainly the offense had enough culpability to go around the entire huddle.
Perhaps they were voicing displeasure at yet another postseason flameout. This one after extensive, and expensive, offseason alterations to improve the roster that ended last season with the hideous Super Bowl debacle.
Sorry, I don’t think so.
I think the boos were directed right at Manning.
And that’s a shame.
Despite the hall of fame numbers, all he’s done for the sport and commercial advertising, and being a true role model, we live in a world of instant gratification. We’ve taken "what have you done for us lately?" to the next level: "We want it now!"
So when the face of the franchise quarterback couldn’t get the job done, he was treated as if he were Jay Cutler.
Which is ironic. As the Broncos offensive woes mounted Sunday, a columnist observed that Manning was turning in a Cutleresque performance.
Believe it. Manning had a stretch in the second quarter where he flat out missed six long passes in a row. For the game, he was 6 of 21 for 107 yards on throws deeper than five yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That 29 percent completion percentage is the third worst over the last nine years of playoff football. The worst: Cutler completed only 16.7 percent for the Bears in the 2010 NFC Championship game against the Packers.
We never thought we’d hear Manning booed in his own stadium. Might it be even worse to be compared to Jay Cutler?
It gets worse. Manning was 2 of 12 (16.7 percent) for 49 yards on pass attempts of 15 yards or longer, including eight overthrows. Most of those sailed beyond the reach of Emmanuel Sanders, who, before Sunday, seemingly could not be overthrown. Whenever Manning targeted Sanders at least 10 yards downfield, he was 1 of 9 (11 percent) for a paltry 17 yards.
Perhaps the Broncos opening drive made what ensued worse. Manning marched the team 68 yards in just seven plays, ending the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. It would be their only touchdown of the day.
"After the first drive, certainly we felt good about that, so, I guess it was surprising after that we sort of had this level off and not as sharp of an execution," Manning observed at his post-game press conference. "After that, I thought their defense played well and I thought our offense didn’t execute as well."
That’s Peyton Manning, the master of exquisite execution, talking. The man who spent his career having his offense purr like a fine-tuned engine.
Remember when it was suicide to blitz Manning on third down? The Colts did so on 9 of 15 third-down dropbacks. Manning went 2 of 8 for a single first down. The ninth play resulted in a sack and lost fumble.
"They did a good job on third down," Manning noted. "You got to execute. You got to be sharp in your execution. Got to be able to make plays. I don’t think I made enough plays and offensively, we just thought that they were better than us on third down."
Wow. Admitting that the defense had the upper hand? Did you ever hear Manning speak with such a dearth of confidence?
If he was injured, he wouldn’t use that as an excuse. "I had that one thigh injury that I had in the San Diego game. It’s hung around, but…I felt like I could manage it."
If this performance was not the result of an injury, should this be Peyton Manning’s last game?
Certainly, he doesn’t want to go out with such a putrid showing. But he’ll be 39 on March 24. Can he come back and erase the memory of this game? Or will he be erasing the memories of all the greatness that preceded it?
Don’t blur the memories, Peyton. You deserve better than to be compared to Jay Cutler, or to be booed at home.
Go out with class. The same way you always played the game.