Newspaper article International New York Times

Manning Unsure of Future after Loss ; Broncos Quarterback Is Outplayed by His Successor in Indianapolis

Newspaper article International New York Times

Manning Unsure of Future after Loss ; Broncos Quarterback Is Outplayed by His Successor in Indianapolis

Article excerpt

Peyton Manning was off target for Denver, and Andrew Luck, although far from perfect, did enough to help Indianapolis beat the Broncos.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end -- isn't that how life is scripted?

Not if Peyton Manning had one more audible in him. With pinpoint passing, he guided the Broncos to a first-quarter lead Sunday in their A.F.C. divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, his former team.

That was as good as it would get for Manning, who struggled in the Broncos' 24-13 defeat and stammered afterward when asked about his playing future. It sounded as if he were cuing the curtain when he said there was no "simple answer" to the question of whether he would return for an 18th season.

"I need to process this game," he said.

Will he be back? "I could not say that," Manning said.

The game was hyped as a mortality play pitting Manning, a five- time N.F.L. most valuable player who won a Super Bowl with the Colts, against his successor in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.

Since Luck entered the league in 2012, he has been considered a star in waiting, his every gain measured against Manning's growth chart. Although Luck collected his first playoff victory in less time than it took his predecessor, Manning reached his third Super Bowl last year. As recently as November, Manning appeared poised to pilot a more balanced team back to the title game.

But down the stretch, a time for the stars to come out, Manning faded. In his last five games, he threw four touchdown passes, including one on Sunday, and six interceptions. On Sunday he finished with 211 yards passing, which would have been a productive first half last season. He also turned the ball over once, fumbling while being sacked.

Luck completed 27 of 43 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He was not perfect -- he made two mindless decisions that resulted in interceptions by a Denver defense that was revamped after last year's Super Bowl loss -- but the Broncos were unable to capitalize.

"So proud to be a part of the Colts in this victory," Luck said, adding, "To come on the road against a very good team in this round of the playoffs and get a win, that's huge and that's awesome."

Luck said he did not pay any mind to the story line that cast him as the ingenue chasing the legend off the stage. When he saw Manning after the game, Luck said, no figurative torch was passed. "Just the regular after-the-game handshake," he said.

As much as Luck tried to play it down, his performance called to mind other time passages in sports. It was like watching Tiger Woods take the mantle from Jack Nicklaus when they were paired during the 2000 P.G.A. Championship, won by Woods, or watching Roger Federer end Pete Sampras's 31-match winning streak in 2001 in the fourth round at Wimbledon. …

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