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Manning falls short in bid for second ring

MIAMI - So much for the possibilities. The script for this one was not followed.

Peyton Manning still may be the best quarterback currently in the game - Drew Brees to the contrary - but thoughts about his being the greatest of all time had best be held in abeyance.

Only a few days ago, Joe Theismann, not a bad quarterback in his time, told Sporting News Today: "If [Manning] wins the Super Bowl, you have to initiate the discussion of whether he's the greatest player to ever play the game. Not just the greatest quarterback, but the greatest player.''

Three years ago on the same field, Manning led the Colts to a Super Bowl win, but last night at what has been renamed Sun Life Stadium, the Colts and Manning were 31-17 losers to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.

"We probably never got into a great rhythm,'' Manning said in trying to explain what happened to a Colts offense that gained only 15 yards - yes, 15 yards - in the second quarter, when the game changed.

"We got the ball on the first drive and had a good drive,'' he said, "then the second drive went down there and scored.''

And the Colts had a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"Then it was strange after that, not having . . . I think maybe six plays in the second quarter.''

Six plays, 15 yards and a time of possession of 2:34. The best offense can't do anything when the other team has the ball.

"We stopped them [at the 1-yard line] at the end of the half and tried to run out the clock, but gave them three points,'' Manning said. "Then we let them have the onside kick on that first series of the second half, and that kind of negated the coin toss. That was disappointing, and it certainly made it tough.''

Manning completed 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards and a touchdown, but his most critical pass was picked off by cornerback Tracy Porter and returned 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 to play.

"We were down seven,'' Manning said. "It's the kind of play [a pass intended for Reggie Wayne] we run a lot, and Porter made a great play. We had a good drive going.

"I give the Saints credit. They played well in all phases. Made some critical plays on special teams. Defense made stops when it had to, and Drew Brees did a good job getting his team into the end zone. They deserved the win.''

Manning, the NFL Most Valuable Player during the regular season for a fourth time, didn't go into great detail about losing to the underdog Saints, the team for which his father played for 111/2 seasons and the team for which Peyton cheered as a boy.

"We missed on a screen that had a chance to be a big play,'' he said, "and later we gave them good position with a missed field goal. I know how exciting it is to win. The Saints ought to be very happy.''

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