Peyton Manning’s Final Drive

Peyton Manning jogged onto the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, trailing the New York Jets 14-13 in the AFC Wild Card round of the 2010 playoffs.  He had 2:36 left to lead his injury riddled Colts team to yet another win in an already incredible season.  

The Colts had finished 10-6, and thanks to a late season run in which the Colts won their final 4 games, they won the AFC South title.  Manning had gotten a team devastated by injuries (the Colts finished the year with 18 players on injured reserve) to the playoffs.  Despite many critics saying the 4 time MVP had a bad season; those who actually paid close attention saw that for much of the year, he played like the MVP. 

But there was nobody who thought that, when Manning ran onto the field that night, it would be his final drive in a Colts uniform. 

The Colts started at their own 20 yard line.  Manning hit Jacob Tamme on a short pass to the right which went for 15 yards to the 35 yard line.  Another pass to Tamme, this one for 11 yards, and the Colts were at the 46 yard line.  A 6 yard run by Joseph Addai put the Colts past midfield.  

Then Blair White, the undrafted rookie out of Michigan State, caught a 12 yard pass from Manning to put the Colts at the Jets’ 36 yard line.  Joseph Addai was stuffed for only a 1 yard gain.  Manning then went back to White, which was completed for only 3 yards.  The Jets took their first timeout of the half with 1:02 left, with the Colts facing a 3rd down and 6 from the Jets’ 32 yard line.

 The Colts needed the first down for two reasons: one was because a 50 yard field goal was anything but certain from their aging kicker, the legendary Adam Vinatieri.  They also wanted to run some clock off.  “We were certainly trying to pick up that first down at the end, we thought that would make them use some of their timeouts and we could run the clock down,” said Manning after the game. 

Following the timeout, Peyton Manning lined up in the shotgun.  Reggie Wayne was the wide receiver to the far left, Pierre Garcon to the far right.  Blair White was in the slot to the right, and Jacob Tamme was staggered behind the Colts’ left tackle, Charlie Johnson.  Joseph Addai was lined up to Manning’s left.  It was the final time Peyton Manning would ever take a snap in a Colts uniform.

As soon as he took the snap from longtime center Jeff Saturday, Manning began rolling to his right, as he had done more frequently in the 2010 season than before.  When he was almost to the 40 yard marker, Manning threw the football, still on the run.  He did not take time to set his feet, he threw on the run.  The play was designed that way.  

Blair White had run a 14 yard out, and was at the 18 yard line, a couple of yards away from the sidelines.  He failed to create much separation from cornerback Drew Coleman, but was in front of Coleman.

Manning’s pass fell inches short.  The ball was actually in White’s hands, though I would not consider it a drop.  Peter King wrote that “just like everything in this Indianapolis season, the throw was a little off. A little low. White tried to scoop it in, but it hit the ground. Incomplete.” 

The throw needed to be low.  Coleman would have had a shot at an interception, which would have ended the game, had it been higher.  Manning put the ball in the only place he could have with no risk of an interception.  A pocket quarterback on the run, throwing to a covered receiver who was undrafted and came out of nowhere.  And people criticized Manning for the pass.  

It would be up to Adam Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker the league has ever known, to make the 50 yard field goal.  

There were questions about Vinatieri’s leg strength.  Not after he nailed the kick with 53 seconds left, putting the Colts ahead 16-14.  That was the loudest I have ever heard Lucas Oil Stadium.  Nate Dunlevy said of Vinatieri’s range: “If the game is on the line, his range is unlimited.” 

Vinatieri’s kick would be the first kick ever in the final minute of a playoff game that was not the game winner.  It has not happened since, either.  Only one other time in NFL history had a team lost a playoff game when having a go-ahead score in the final minute.  The other is famously known as the “Music City Miracle”.

A terrible kickoff and a great kick return later, and the Jets were in business.  Jim Caldwell took a terrible timeout, and as time expired Nick Folk kicked a chip shot field goal to win 17-16.  Phil B. Wilson commented on Manning’s reaction toCaldwell’s timeout:

I can’t get the image of Peyton Manning in dismay out of my head.

ESPN’s highlights played at my house until 3 in the morning as I tried to decompress, playing Facebook games and watching sports, over and over and over. Each time, the Colts lose.

Each time, there’s Manning throwing his hands up as if to say, “What are you doing?” when Colts coach Jim Caldwell calls a timeout with 29 seconds to go, despite the fact the New York Jets appeared to be settling for a long FG try after running for 2 yards to the Colts 34.

And that was how the Colts’ career of Peyton Manning ended.  With his arms held up, wondering what in the world his head coach was doing.  

The career of the greatest player to ever wear the horseshoe came to an end with a pass that was just a little low, and with his arms raised in exasperation.  

And no one even thought for a second that it was the end.

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About Josh Wilson
Follow Josh on twitter @jwilsonWL, on Facebook at the Operation: Freedom page, or you can reach him by email at operation.freedom@yahoo.com.

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