He was driving the Colts toward a game-tying score, having moved from the Indianapolis 30 to the Saints' 31 in just two minutes. On third-and-5, he dropped back, looked for All-Pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne and delivered the pass.
But cornerback Tracy Porter jumped the route, picked off the pass and raced 74 yards for a touchdown that clinched the Saints' 31-17 win.
It was yet another stunning moment for Porter, who grew up in Louisiana. His interception of Brett Favre in the final minute of the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game prevented the Vikings from winning the game in regulation and set up the 31-28 overtime victory that got the Saints to Miami.
"We knew on that third-and-short that they like the outside release for the slant," Porter said. "It was a great jump and a great play. When I saw my blockers in front of me and only Peyton and the offensive linemen left, I cut back and ran it in."
Manning credited Porter with making a great play, although it was unclear if Wayne made a mistake on his route. "Porter made a great play; that's all I can say about it," Manning said. "He made a heck of a play."
When asked about the route Wayne ran, Manning said, "It's a kind of play we've run a lot, and Porter just made a great play."
Manning acknowledged that the interception return essentially ended the game. "We were down seven there, and on the drive before, that was disappointing as well," he said.
Wayne didn't cast further light on the play.
"They did a good job of guessing," he said. "That's what it is, a guessing game. It's what they've been thriving on all year, creating turnovers and scoring with it. He pretty much caught it and put us in a panic mode."
Porter explained how he knew the play was going to Wayne. When he saw receiver Austin Collie run one way, he knew Wayne would attempt to break off toward the outside.
"Once [Collie] motioned down, we knew [Wayne] was going to wide depart and run to the sticks," he said, referring to the sideline. "I saw him do that, and I jumped the route and the ball came right into my hands."
Porter still wasn't convinced the game was out of reach until the clock dipped under two minutes. "I wish I knew the game was out of reach,'' he said, "but with the type of player Peyton Manning is, I knew it wasn't."
Finally, the moment had arrived.
"Words can't describe it," he said. ". . . For the people of New Orleans, the people of Louisiana, they're as important to this victory as we are."