SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The football fates gave an NFL legend a send-off Sunday befitting his all-time greatness.

Now it’s up to Peyton Manning to gratefully accept the gift and not push his luck by continuing to play.

The defense of the Denver Broncos carried Manning in Sunday’s Super Bowl 50. Manning and the Denver offense had a productive opening drive en route to a field goal, then did next to nothing thereafter. Manning threw for 141 yards and was a nonfactor all night. The Broncos were on the verge of becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl without an offensive touchdown.

Instead, the defense forced a third turnover by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and the Denver offense cashed in with a 4-yard touchdown drive to seal the outcome in a 24-10 triumph. But make no mistake: The defense won this game almost single-handedly.

“It’s a great feeling,” Manning said Sunday night. “It’s a great sense of accomplishment for this team. We’ve been through a lot this year. The team’s been unselfish, tough, resilient. All that was on display tonight. I got a chance to talk to the team last night and I just kind of thanked them for letting me be a part of the journey.”

Manning did not use the occasion to announce his retirement. That is not his way, to upstage the Super Bowl and his team’s glorious victory. If that’s all it was and Manning will step away from the sport in the coming weeks, fine.

He told New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick on the field following the AFC title game that this might be his last rodeo. That sounds like something a player says when he already knows he’s retiring but isn’t yet ready to confirm that for everyone. Manning’s father, Archie, told the league-owned NFL Network following the game Sunday that he thinks Peyton is “done in Denver” and “may be done everywhere.”

But if it’s something else, if Peyton Manning is having any hesitation about retiring and giving consideration to trying to play another season beyond his 40th birthday in March, that could be tempting fate.

He has been given his John Elway-esque exit. He has been handed his storybook ending. He has his second career Super Bowl win in four tries with four different coaches. No one should talk any longer about Manning’s playoff struggles. He is on a very short list of the best-ever quarterbacks. He has records. He has five league MVP awards. And now he has multiple Super Bowls to his name.

There is no more greatness to be summoned from his right arm. He was an ineffective quarterback Sunday. Yes, it came against a very good Carolina defense. But Manning had two weeks for his body to rest for this game. He should have been at his best. If this is the best that his body allows him to be at this point in his career, it’s not good enough. There aren’t too many two-week breaks between games in the NFL. Manning was the league’s 34th-rated passer this season and it’s unlikely to get better if he keeps playing.

“It’s been a unique season,” Manning said. “You’re probably tired of hearing me say this but I really have just tried to take it one week at a time and not get too far ahead. I certainly knew this defense and this team would have a chance. From the get-go, they’ve been nothing but awesome. Being hurt and struggling early in the season wasn’t a lot of fun. I was grateful to get back healthy and try to play my part these past couple weeks.”

Manning said Sunday he’d spoken with Tony Dungy, his former coach, about avoiding a too-hasty retirement decision.

“I communicated with him last night when he got in the Hall of Fame,” Manning said. “That was very special. But I talked to him last week. He called me and said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ He got some good advice from Dick Vermeil and I think maybe Bill Cowher as well about not making an emotional decision one way or the other. And so I thought that was good advice. It’s been an emotional week, an emotional night. And the night’s just beginning. I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family. I think I’ll take some time after that. I’m gonna kind of enjoy the night and take it one step at a time.”

The Broncos can move on with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, although he is eligible for unrestricted free agency and must be re-signed or franchise-tagged. The Denver defense will remain in good hands, assuming that the Broncos do not allow linebacker Von Miller to escape in free agency this offseason.

Manning should move on as well. He now is tied with his younger brother, Eli, the New York Giants’ quarterback, with two Super Bowl triumphs each. He should not try for a third.

“We don’t do that,” Peyton Manning said when asked late Sunday about any sibling rivalry relating to Super Bowl wins. “It’s not what we do. Maybe you guys and your brothers do that. We don’t do that. I just had a chance to see Eli. It’s great being with him and having a moment with him in the locker room. I remember being in the locker room with him when he won his first Super Bowl. Those are special, special, special memories.

“I had a chance to see my parents and see (Manning’s wife) Ashley. I had a chance to hug my kids. Marshall (his son) is down here chewing gum underneath this podium. To celebrate with your family, with your teammates and your friends and all the people that have helped you along the road, I’m very grateful for that.”


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