Why Peyton Manning may not recover from Super Bowl 48 beatdown

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning seems destined to be remembered as an outrageously talented quarterback who couldn't win enough when it counted.

But of all his playoff defeats, Manning will find the 43-8 humiliation inflicted on him by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII impossible to recover from.

Manning's critics have often labelled him a so-called "choker." That is an inevitable label for a quarterback good enough to have won three Super Bowls, but has only claimed one.

A losing postseason record of 11-12 only amplifies the view that Manning doesn't deliver on the biggest stages. Had he have lost a close one to a powerful Seahawks team, Manning still would have been accused of wilting under the pressure.

But such an emphatic hammering feels somehow more permanent. The 35-point shellacking, the most one-sided Super Bowl since 2000, feels like a career-defining footnote.

For all his records, including the two single-season marks for passing yards and touchdowns he set in 2013, Manning may never shake the stigma of being handled so easily on football's biggest stage.

As dominant as they were, there was no real mystery or sophistication to how the Seahawks shut Manning down. They simply did what they always do.

That meant using their imposing "Legion of Boom" secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman, to beat up receivers on the outside.

They shifted around but ultimately always settled into their familiar three-deep, four-under coverage shell. In front of this seven-man wall, the Seahawks used a four-man rush to shrink the pocket around Manning.

Yet even though he saw what he expected to see, Manning had no answers. It is how little the Seahawks did, and how well it stifled Manning, that was so disturbing.

Their coverage stayed the same, while the pressure was consistent but never intense. Seattle didn't deliver bone-jarring hits to Manning, they simply harassed him.

Yet that was all it took to force him into three critical turnovers. His two interceptions both came on badly timed, ill-advised throws under some pressure.

Just by getting Manning off his static spot in a clean pocket and preventing him from stepping up, the Seahawks wrecked the most prolific offense in NFL history.

In the days leading up to the game, Seattle defensive tackle Tony McDaniel accused Manning of having "happy feet," according to NFL.com writer Marc Sessler.

McDaniel's words are now likely to become part of Manning's legacy. They will accompany highlights of this Super Bowl that prove just how much Manning struggles with pressure.

Those struggles have been well hidden over the years. His quick release and some quality offensive lines have let Manning hide that he is not only affected by pressure, he falls to pieces when faced with it.

That is a cold, hard fact the Seahawks have ruthlessly exposed.

The demolition he suffered in the 48th Super Bowl has shattered the aura around Manning. The fear factor is now gone.

At one time it was a select group of teams, usually the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers, who had the formula for stopping Manning when nobody else could.

Now the template for beating the most dominant quarterback of his era, in terms of numbers, has never been more clear. It is a formula every team that faces the Broncos next season will replicate.

That will make winning a second Super Bowl, the only way for Manning to erase the debacle against the Seahawks and silence his critics, too difficult to achieve.

The 37-year-old now has a tough decision to make. He won't want to walk away from the game on these terms.

But Super Bowl XLVIII made Manning look not just mortal, but frail and vulnerable. He may have lost his last chance to finish his career the way he wants.

image: © Jeffrey Beall