INDIANAPOLIS — With Peyton Manning now officially retired, it's perfectly acceptable to start looking back at his all-time-great career and break down how he was able to accomplish each and every record and key performance along the way.
The NFL Network certainly hasn't wasted much time in this endeavor, and on Wednesday, it debuted its show, "Top 10 Peyton Manning Games."
As Indianapolis Colts fans can attest, many, many, many games from Manning's seasons wearing the horseshoe could've easily made this list. But the NFL Network did a pretty good job picking No. 18's best performances during his time in Indianapolis and in Denver.
In all, seven of the 10 ranked games came from Manning's Colts days, and, luckily for you, we have the list — and some of the analysis from those on the show — right here:
No. 10: Manning's first-career win
Oct. 4, 1998; Week 5
RCA Dome — Indianapolis
Most NFL fans remember that the Indianapolis Colts ultimately made the right decision in picking Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft over fellow quarterback Ryan Leaf, who went No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers.
But many might not remember that the start to Manning's NFL career was a little bumpier than Leaf's — that was, until Week 5 of their rookie seasons, when they were matched up against each other.
Manning earned his first-career win, as the Colts defeated Leaf and the Chargers, 17-12.
"There was something symbolic about getting the first win against Ryan Leaf, a guy that he was always compared with early on," said Mike Chappell, who covered the Colts for the Indianapolis Star during Manning's career.
No. 18 didn't have huge numbers that day — completing 12-of-23 passes for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception apiece — but a win is a win.
It was just one of three victories for Manning in his rookie season, but, as history would tell, Manning's career went one way, and Leaf's, unfortunately, went the other direction.
"Peyton Manning turns out to be arguably the greatest pick. Ryan Leaf turns out to be arguably the greatest bust," said NFL Media's Andrea Kremer.
"As competitive as Peyton is, to beat the guy that people were saying should've maybe been the first pick in the draft, you know that was a sweet victory," NFL writer Matt Miller said.
No. 9: Manning's first postseason victory**
Jan. 4, 2004; Wild Card Round
RCA Dome — Indianapolis
It happened much later in his career than he would've wanted, but Manning's first-career playoff victory was a doozy.
Taking on the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Round of the 2003 playoffs in the RCA Dome, the game was essentially over by halftime, as Manning put together a perfect passer rating to advance with a 41-10 victory.
"That was needed ... for Peyton Manning," said broadcaster Greg Rakestraw. "Because he had been to the playoffs in '99, 2000, 2002. So we're now talking about being six years into his career, and yet to win a playoff game."
Manning "had the performance of eons" that day, according to Colts play-by-play man Bob Lamey: 22-of-26 passing for 377 yards with five touchdowns and no picks. Future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison had two touchdowns receiving, as did Brandon Stokley, and a youngster named Reggie Wayne had the other for Indianapolis.
One of the more memorable moments of that game came in the second quarter, when Harrison caught a Manning pass and went to the ground at the Denver 30. But no Broncos defender thought to even touch Harrison in the act of making the catch, so the wily veteran simply got up and ran to the end zone to complete the 46-yard touchdown play.
"I think (Manning) announced to the world, 'OK, I've gone through my growing pains, and now I'm at a point where I need to be reckoned with, and I'm going to be in the championship conversation from here on out,'" said broadcaster Brandon Krisztal.
No. 8: Manning pummels Lions on Thanksgiving**
Nov. 25, 2004; Week 12
Ford Field — Detroit
While those at home feasted on their Thanksgiving meals, Manning feasted on the Detroit Lions defense during Week 12 of the 2004 season.
Manning had six — count 'em six — touchdowns on the day — the first three to Stokley and the final three to Harrison — on 23-of-28 passing with 236 yards in the Colts' 41-9 drubbing of the Lions.
That's right: Manning had more passing touchdowns (six) than passing incompletions (five).
"Is that all he threw that day?" former NFL head coach and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. "Boy did I feel sorry for Detroit that day, because they ran into Manning on a short week."
The Lions probably could've had a year to prepare for Manning that day, and still wouldn't have done a thing to stop him.
And things got so out of hand that day that Manning didn't even play a full three quarters before backup Jim Sorgi came into the game. He completed 1-of-3 passes for seven yards.
NFL writer Matt Miller believes it was that game that Manning earned his national moniker, "The Sheriff."
"You know, the guy that's barking out the signals, running the offense," Miller said. "That's actually one of the best games I can ever remember a quarterback playing."
- "4th and 2"**
Nov. 15, 2009; Week 10
Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis
Things weren't looking so well for Manning and the Colts in the fourth quarter of their Week 10 matchup against the New England Patriots during the 2009 season.
Indianapolis — which came into the game with a perfect 8-0 record — faced a 31-14 deficit with 14:18 left in the game, to the team's biggest rival, nonetheless.
Then it happened.
Manning to Pierre Garçon: 29-yard touchdown; 31-21.
After a Patriots field goal, Joseph Addai: four-yard touchdown run; 34-28.
And, with 13 seconds left, Manning found Wayne from one yard out; 35-34. Ball game.
But most remember what happened in the drive before that Manning-to-Wayne touchdown. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick elected to go for it on 4th and 2 from the New England 28-yard line.
He wanted nothing to do with Manning and the Colts' offense, and is overheard on the sideline saying, "I don't wanna give these guys the ball back."
"This is where Bill Belichick is horrified of Peyton Manning," broadcaster Damon Amendolara said.
"Everybody in the stadium and in the country says, 'That's when you punt.' You put Peyton back at his own 30, or whatever, and take your chances," Chappell said. "And Bill Belichick went for it."
Quarterback Tom Brady's pass to Kevin Faulk went for just one yard before he was heroically tackled by Melvin Bullitt at the 29, turning the ball over on downs and giving Manning & Co. terrific field position for its eventual game-winning drive.
And, of course, No. 18 cashed in.
"Now that's an instant classic, right?" head coach Jim Caldwell said to his team in the locker room after the game.
- Manning's Monday Night Miracle**
Oct. 6, 2003; Week 5
Raymond James Stadium — Tampa
There have been other games labeled as the "Monday Night Miracle," but none were as stunning as what Manning and the Colts did to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 6, 2003.
Tampa Bay took a 21-0 lead into halftime, and eventually saw its lead grow back to 21 with 5:22 left in the fourth quarter, when Ronde Barber intercepted a Manning pass and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-14 Bucs.
In fact, head coach Tony Dungy seriously considered pulling his starters at that point.
"So much for the great Peyton Manning. I mean, I know it ain't over, but …" Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was heard saying on the sidelines. "So much for 'Big Money Peyton.'"
I suppose "Big Money Peyton" wasn't too thrilled by those comments.
The Colts' offense and defense shined in the final five minutes, combining to stuff the Tampa Bay offense and then take advantage of every little opportunity when they had the ball.
"I literally started calling people at home: 'Hey are you still awake? Hey, did you turn the TV off?'" Rakestraw said.
With 3:43 left, James Mungro scored from three yards out to cut the score to 35-21; with 2:29 left, Manning found Harrison for 28-yards to cut the score to 35-28; and with just 35 seconds left, Ricky Williams ran it in from one yard out to tie the game and send it to overtime.
In that overtime period, Indianapolis officially sent Tampa Bay to the locker room shocked when Mike Vanderjagt hit a game-winning, 29-yard field goal.
Colts 38, Buccaneers 35.
How about "Big Money Peyton" now, Keyshawn?
"Remember, this is also a time when the Buccaneers' defense was one of the best in the NFL. They were defending Super Bowl champions. They were in Tampa," Amendolara said.
"I've got a lot of Colts game on DVDs, and every so often I'll put that game in," Chappell said. "You know how that game ends, but you also know that it's virtually impossible to win a game like that. … When you have Peyton Manning, nothing's impossible, and no game is unwinnable."
No. 2: Super Bowl XLI**
Feb. 4, 2007; Super Bowl
Dolphin Stadium — Miami
I know, I know. Many of you are thinking, "How is this not No. 1?" Well, when you see what the NFL Network picked as the No. 1 Peyton Manning game of all-time, you'll understand why.
In what was Manning's first attempt to secure his legacy as an all-time great by winning a Super Bowl, the Colts took on the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
Unfortunately for both teams, this game is also remembered as the first Super Bowl game to feature rain, which was falling heavily at times at Dolphin Stadium in Miami.
But the Colts overcame the conditions — and a Devin Hester kickoff return for touchdown on the game's opening play — to win the title, 29-17.
"The Colts are World Champions!" Lamey exclaimed.
Manning's numbers that night weren't off the charts — 25-of-38 passing for 247 yards with one touchdown and one interception each — but he managed the offense masterfully, which saw 191 total rushing yards on the day, including 113 from Dominic Rhodes and 77 from Addai.
"I think Peyton's performance in that game might be underrated, just from a standpoint that it was the one Super Bowl that we've ever had that was played in the rain," Rakestraw said. "It was a miserable weather night."
The lasting image of that game will forever be Manning's smile as he is handed the Vince Lombardi trophy during the postgame celebration on the field.
"The world — not just the country — was happy for Peyton Manning to win a Super Bowl," said broadcaster Howard Eskin.
No. 1: 'We're going to the Super Bowl!'**
Jan. 21, 2007; AFC Championship Game
RCA Dome — Indianapolis
For most teams, winning the Super Bowl would trump any other feelings leading up to that point of the season.
The Indianapolis Colts 2006 World Championship is certainly no different.
The Colts defeated the Patriots 38-34 at Lucas Oil Stadium to win the 2006 AFC Championship!
But the win against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game two weeks prior, perhaps, was the most satisfying moment in franchise history.
"The perfect storm," Chappell said. "AFC title game, at home, arch rival New England."
Well, by halftime, the Patriots had turned it into a laugher, leading 21-6. Most of the media began writing their game recaps at that point.
There was no way Manning and the Colts were coming back in this one.
"That game was over," NFL writer Don Banks said. "I remember calling my wife at halftime, saying, 'This one's over.'"
Indianapolis had to get creative in some areas — and lucky in others — but they staged a furious comeback in the final two quarters.
First, Manning scored on a one-yard run with 8:13 left in the third quarter to make it 21-13.
Then, Manning found Dan Klecko — a defensive tackle; yes, a defensive tackle wearing No. 61 — on a one-yard touchdown pass with four minutes to go in the third quarter. A Manning-to-Harrison two-point conversion tied the game at 21.
The game was an all-out battle from there (including a fumble recovery touchdown by center Jeff Saturday), but in the end, Addai's three-yard touchdown run with a minute remaining gave the Colts the lead for good, 38-34, and Lamey let Colts Nation know the implications.
"We're going to the Super Bowl" he yelled. "What a comeback!"
In fact, it was the biggest comeback victory (18-point deficit) in a championship game in NFL history.
Again, Manning didn't have all-time-great numbers in this one. Though he did throw for 349 yards, he completed 27-of-47 passes for just one touchdown to one interception.
But it's what No. 18 was able to do as a leader of the team that will always be remembered in this one.
"When you think Peyton Manning, this is the game you think of: the 2006 AFC Championship Game," former NFL offensive lineman-turned-broadcaster Ross Tucker said.