Peyton Manning: Back to being a choker?

Forgive the provocative headline, but I'm sure that's a thought running through the heads of many right now. It's worth addressing.

Once upon a time, the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning(notes) had a reputation as a guy who gagged in big games. After years of great quarterbacking with no ring, he eventually broke through and won Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears, and it seemed that the choke-artist reputation was put to bed.

What about now, though? He just played in one of the two biggest games of his life, and not only did he not win, but it was an interception that came out of his hand that turned the game. If he makes a better decision or a better throw there, we might have an entirely different story right now.

So what do we make of this? Is Manning a guy who had to play a Rex Grossman(notes)-led team in order to win a Super Bowl, and then folded like a lawn chair when he had to play a good team in a big game?

Or is he a great quarterback who's proved he's clutch, and he just happened to lose one to a team of destiny?

I say we avoid the tendency to draw any knee-jerk conclusions on this one. I know it's fun to make sweeping judgments right after a Super Bowl, and it'll make for fun conversations at the water cooler tomorrow. I get that. Right or wrong, Super Bowls are probably the single biggest factor in carving out legacies.

But that one throw isn't going to define Peyton Manning. He's past the point in his career where he needs to prove anything. To me, once a guy gets over that hump and proves he can nail down a big game, then it's never a question again. Peyton Manning isn't a guy who needs to create a legacy. This is a guy who already has one, and can only add to it.

And besides, I'm not even sure if the interception was his fault. ESPN analyst Steve Young just finished explaining why the interception falls on the shoulders of Reggie Wayne(notes) more than it does on Manning. It's Wayne's job to cut underneath the defender and shield him from that football. You won't hear Manning blame anyone but himself, but Young -- who knows a thing or two about shedding a "can't win the big game" reputation -- will give the more honest assessment.

There are plenty of other Colts who can take their share of the blame, too. The defense, which allowed Drew Brees(notes) to pick it apart. The special teams unit, particularly Hank Baskett(notes), who couldn't come up with that football. The receivers who dropped perfect Manning passes.

It wasn't his best game, but it's not like Manning went out there and played like he was blindfolded, either. He still went 31-of-45 for 333 yards and a touchdown with the interception. There were some brilliant throws in there, too, like the touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon(notes) and the one he dropped into Dallas Clark's(notes) breadbasket in heavy traffic.

It's one game. Manning's career is, and will continue to be, above any one throw, even if it did come in the biggest possible game.

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