Sixteen regular-season games and one postseason contest later, Manning took a moment to reflect on what had transpired over the past season.
“I accomplished a lot more this year than I certainly thought that I would have personally, and I think this team exceeded its expectations as well,” Manning said after Denver’s 38-35 double-overtime loss to Baltimore. “We really didn’t know what to expect from this team. A lot of new players – it’s hard to form chemistry when you have new players and a new team in such a short period of time, and we did just that and did some really good things.”
After a regular season in which he set nearly every franchise single-season passing record, Manning completed 28-of-43 passes for 290 yards against the Ravens in the Divisional Round loss. He tossed three touchdown passes, but after the game was thinking more about his two interceptions that he’d like to have back.
The two turnovers led to 10 Ravens points in a game that was decided in double overtime.
The first came on a deflected pass that cornerback Corey Graham returned 39 yards for a score that gave Baltimore a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.
The other ended the Broncos’ final possession when Manning threw down the middle of the field looking for wide receiver
“Bad throw – probably the decision wasn’t great either,” Manning said. “I thought I had an opening, and I didn’t get enough on it. I was trying to make a play and (it is) certainly a throw I’d like to have back.”
Manning made plenty of plays during the season that saw the Broncos take an 11-game win streak and the AFC’s No. 1 seed into the postseason.
But his last effort of the 2012 campaign resulted in a turnover that the Ravens converted into a 47-yard field goal to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
“He was trying to make a play,” Head Coach John Fox said. “I’m sure he would like to have it back. But that is not what cost us the game.”
In 2011, Manning watched the Colts’ season-opener from a hospital bed, having not yet been cleared to walk.
In 2012, he quarterbacked the Broncos to a 13-3 season, setting records and marking milestones along the way.
“I know how much time I put into this season,” Manning said. “I think the more you put in, that’s why it does hurt. Everybody is hurting in that locker room because guys really have worked. If it didn’t matter to you, it probably doesn’t hurt as much. But I know it matters.”
Given the amount of work that it took for Manning and the rest of the club to reach the NFL’s Divisional Round, the loss will stick with the group.
“It takes a lot of effort and energy – it’s a grind,” Manning said. “It does require a lot of work and a lot of energy. So that is why it is so disappointing, because of how much hard work and effort and time and extra meetings and extra workouts that we put in to get to this point.
“We certainly wanted to go perfect and to win and to keep going, but that’s not the way it always works.”