Peyton Manning is inching up on his 37th birthday.
He has spent 15 years in an NFL uniform, 14 of them with the Colts, who took him with the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft.
This past offseason was shrouded in uncertainty. After four neck operations, he had signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos.
The former University of Tennessee All-American had it all in front of him. He had led his team to the playoffs, winning 11 regular season games in a row to become Super Bowl favorite.
It would have been his second Super Bowl ring, tying him with little brother Eli. It would have been a third Super Bowl trophy for the franchise and played in Peyton’s hometown of New Orleans.
Manning will make $40 million over the next two years. But he would trade all that to have won a Super Bowl this season.
“It stings,’’ he told reporters after losing 38-35 in two overtimes to Baltimore. “It’s supposed to sting, but we’ll move from it and move on.’’
The game reminded me of the two games where Baltimore was underdogs and upset the 13-3 Titans at home. The first one was in the 2001 AFC Divisional Title game when linebacker Ray Lewis wrestled a pass away from the Titans’ Eddie George and took it 50 yards to the end zone as a home field crowd stared in disbelief.
To me that was the Titans’ best team since it moved to Tennessee. But it would not be. Ray Lewis saw to it with 12 tackles, a sack and interception.
The other one was in 2009, when the Titans had a first-round bye and the wild card Ravens came in and eliminated them, 13-10, despite being outgained 391-211. Lewis led his team with 11 tackles and forced a fumble.
In this, his final season, Lewis refused to bow out in the Mile High City.
The Ravens rained on Peyton Manning’s miracle comeback season. Knowing the game would be played in Arctic conditions, he prepared himself by immersing his hands in ice water during practices. He then opted for gloves on both hands during the game.
It wasn’t the gloves, or the weather. Manning made one bad decision and it cost him dearly.
With the game tied and a minute remaining in the first overtime, Manning rolled to his right and threw back across his body to Brandon Stokely. He committed a quarterback’s cardinal sin and the Ravens were not forgiving.
Ravens cornerback Corey Graham moved in front of Stokely and the wounded duck landed in his hands. It set up what would be a game-winning 47-yard field goal and left Manning limp.
“Bad throw,’’ he offered. “Probably the decision wasn’t great. I think I had an opening and I didn’t get enough on it.’’
Whether real, or imagined, it seemed Manning’s arm was not what it was early in the game. It got weaker late in the game. He threw one short route that almost hit the ground first.
Manning put a lot of miles on his body this season, passing for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. The four-time NFL MVP finished with a 105.8 quarterback rating, remarkable numbers under the circumstances.
“I was trying to make a play,’’ Manning lamented. “It’s certainly a throw I’d like to have back.’’
Those are the ones that leave scars.
Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee and a 2013 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame.