- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Peyton Manning has been dumped on the national couch and is undergoing a thorough psychological examination following the ouster of the Colts in the playoffs.

This is not just about Manning being unable to win the big one. He sometimes cannot win the small big one, not even after the Mr. Magoo-like eye in the sky reversed an interception that alerted the conspiracy theorists in the event of a comeback victory by the Colts.

Troy Polamalu’s interception of a Manning pass was obvious to everyone but referee Pete Morelli, who was not swayed by the image of Polamalu counting to 10 after catching the ball.

Manning used the egregious gift to march the Colts to a touchdown and turn an otherwise one-sided game into one fraught with tension and memorable gaffes: the fumble of Jerome Bettis, the questionable play selection of Manning on the last drive and the 46-yard shank of Mike Vanderjagt.

Manning is the best there ever was in the regular season before turning into a toad in the postseason. That is his lot in football, and although it beats being Patrick Ramsey, it is a long way from Joe Montana.

Manning expends an awful lot of extraneous energy at the line of scrimmage, as he points demonstratively to every defender on the field and sometimes points two or three times in a row to one particularly menacing defender standing a few yards from him before taking the snap from center.

This is said to be the genius of Manning in the regular season.

This is said to show the frazzled nature of Manning in the postseason.

And Manning certainly looked out of sorts against the Steelers, largely because quarterbacks do their best work in the upright position, as opposed to the fetal position, which is where Manning spent much of the afternoon.

Conveniently enough, Manning noted the team’s pass-protection issues, as if to give himself an out. His was not a nice try.

Manning possibly should have recognized the defensive game plan of the Steelers at some point in the game, which basically was smear the quarterback. There are certain quick-hitting plays that can neutralize the smear-the-quarterback game plan.

But Manning never seemed to grasp the usefulness of a draw play or a screen pass at those moments, which is why he wound up on his back so often.

Manning said he studied all this game film of the Steelers in the days leading up to the game. Unfortunately for Manning, he failed to commit to memory one elementary fact, which is: Five blockers cannot hold out eight rushers.

And that issue was on him, not his offensive line.

Even as Manning led the Colts on what appeared to be a game-tying drive late in the game, he inexplicably went deep on a second-and-2 play and followed it up with another incompletion on third-and-2, which set up the field goal attempt of Vanderjagt, who missed the uprights by half the width of the stadium.

Instead of trying to be special in that sequence, Manning should have tried to be ordinary.

He should have been thinking of moving the ball closer in order to increase the kicker’s chance of success.

That he didn’t revealed a quarterback too eager to place his mark on the game.

And his pathological eagerness to show well in the postseason is a product of the inquisition he faces at the conclusion of each season.

He knew what was coming from the national press, just as surely as he knew all the defensive tendencies of the Steelers.

He is this paragon of perfection who comes down with a lump in his throat in the postseason.

And that characterization becomes more burdensome with each playoff failure.

This was Manning’s season to eliminate the demons after a 13-0 start, and now he must come to terms with the unsettling realization that he may never be in this position again.

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