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Peyton Manning's Super Bowl cruise

The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning are headed to the Super Bowl ... probably in a Buick.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

1. A Buick is mostly an anonymous car. Your grandparents drove around in one because they equate size to safety and it sounds like something that stands out in the world of sedans. Selling a car like that requires a special kind of pitch, something that makes its plainness its greatest asset. Peyton Manning is the perfect pitchman for a Buick.

Professional actors don't drive Buicks. Putting Brad Pitt into the same giant sedan your grandparents drive isn't believable. Toss a lesser actor into a Buick commercial and it's just another dude in Dockers driving around a mostly anonymous car. But when Madison Avenue squeezes Peyton Manning into a Buick, it's believable and desirable. (Though you have to think he'd be listening to game breakdowns and not Outlaw Country, because narrative). Whatever he may have accomplished on the field is balanced by a calm drawl and ordinariness. You too, everyday person, could be driving one of those cars.

2. Nothing about the AFC Championship game on Sunday made it special. It too was kind of plain, especially considering the amount of chatter leading up to it.

Denver did what it's been doing all season. The biggest difference was probably in the secondary, where a banged up group played far better than anyone predicted in the week leading up to this game. Manning's effort didn't particularly stand out statistically among the single-game numbers he posted on his way to a record breaking season.

3. Manning spends a quarter or even a half probing his opponents, a five-yard pass here, a screen there, a handoff or two, and a short crossing route to reset the chains. It's precision work. Methodical. It sedates an audience, and lulls a defense into letting its guard down. Watching someone perform their craft with skill and efficiency feels out of place in a world of Donkey Sauce and Dodge Vipers.

4. Six minutes into the first quarter, on third-and-10, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas on a 29-yard deep shot that moved the Broncos from their own 42 to the Patriots' 29-yard line. Eric Decker caught a 19-yard pass on the next play. The drive ended in a field goal, staking the Broncos to a 3-0 lead which they would never relinquish. Soft spots identified. Cleared for exploitation.

It's a rare talent that can make seven-touchdown games feel routine, even forgettable in the larger scope of things. Manning's record-breaking season is now a factoid for cocktail parties. It was going to be just that whether the Broncos won or lost the AFC Championship, except hot take dispensers would have weaponized those 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards.

5. Accessories like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas help. The same can be said for Knowshon Moreno, headed for bust status not that long ago, and a defense that played its best game of the season without its best player and a few others. Denver's offensive line had its best outing of the season. Manning was pressured on just three of his 43 passing attempts. How else can you bobble a snap like this and still complete a first-down throw to Eric Decker while New England's pass rushers are forced to watch helplessly?


Quarterbacks really can play an outsized role in a team game like this, especially guys like Manning and Brady. However, the balance of the signal caller and his teammates usually tilts heavily in the individual's direction. Contrived narratives are born.

6. The downside of being a generation's greatest quarterback is the transference. This was the 15th game for Manning vs. Brady, and it was properly stuffed with all the expected histrionics. What would it say about Manning if the Broncos didn't win? We have a bad habit hanging our own insecurities on star athletes and celebrities in general. Manning's accomplishments, his year-round presence on television and an everyman persona make him an especially ripe target for projection.

He chokes so we don't have to!

He's a winner just like you!

7. A loss would have been a bitter disappointment for the Broncos. Teams don't take a $96 million risk on a 36-year old quarterback, even a guaranteed Hall of Famer, because they're rebuilding. When Denver signed Manning as a free agent in 2012, a grainy cell phone video was the most tangible piece of evidence there was indicating that Manning could still throw a football in spite of surgeries and some European stem cell treatments for his neck. He still gets dogged with questions about his ability to throw the deep ball, something he did just fine against New England.

Nevertheless, the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl, for the first time since 1999, against the Seattle Seahawks and a defense that's a tough one to crack even for a wily veteran like Peyton Manning. And he knows that.

From his post-game remarks:

"There is still one more game to play. I think we will enjoy this and you definitely take time to savor the moment. I know I certainly will being in my 16th season going to my third Super Bowl. I know how hard it is to get there. It's extremely difficult."

By this time tomorrow, we'll be hearing about the weather and his Super Bowl loss. The narrative has already been reset.

8. America's sports pages and 24-hour networks spent a full week raising the stakes for this year's AFC Championship. Could Manning out-duel his counterpart? Could he and the Broncos get over the hump? Manning finished the game unmolested with 400 yards, two touchdowns, a healthy 9.3 yards per attempt and no turnovers ... you hardly noticed how he accumulated his stats.

The other reason your grandparents like to drive a Buick (or Lincoln or Cadillac or any other large car) is the ride itself. Those boats have a way of smoothing over potholes and straightening out the curves. These cars don't drive to their destination, they float there.

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