Is it time for Peyton to hang up the cleats?

Like the protagonist in a Shakespearean play, Peyton Manning foreshadowed his train crash of a playoff season. Yes, train crash. This is not too harsh a metaphor because nothing short of a second Superbowl win would be a suitable penultimate season for the greatest thinking quarterback who ever threw a lame duck spiral for 60 yards. Or, was this his final season?

The whispers started around mid-season. After only 3 interceptions in his first 7 games, Manning proceeded to throw 2 per game for 3 straight Sundays. A respite of 2 error-free games were followed by 6 more INTs and only 3 passing TDs in the last 4 games, including 4 turnovers in the loss against the Bengals.

Despite clear signs of a swoon, optimism for the Broncos’ playoff chances remained high. Another showdown with Tom Brady and the Patriots seemed destined. After all, Denver was not just about the passing game this season. Their defense was third overall in fewest yards given up per game, and beefed up at great costs during the spring of 2014.

So yes, the loss to the Indiana Colts and Manning’s replacement in Andrew Luck is a train crash, because the magnitude of the loss is that great in relation to Manning’s legacy.

But again, this near tragic ending was foreshadowed. It wasn’t just about the turnovers. He was unimpressive in wins against the Chiefs, the Bills, the Chargers and the Raiders, not to mention the loss against the Bengals. The inevitable sense of the dominant Manning from even last year was not sustained and even failed to surface in some of the last few games. You had to wonder how he could summon it from wherever just in time. Indeed, he could not.

So what now? If we know Manning at all, we know that he has the same stubbornness that plagues all greats — refusal to accept an ending not on his terms. And even if he grasps what he has lost — the ability to dominate at will and to lead his team to victory in less than 2 minutes, what does he tell John Elway? The Broncos went all in on Manning. He has to play one more season unless they don’t want him. But there is no stud backup waiting in the wings at Mile High.

If Manning players out next year, there is reasonable risk of an average or even subpar season. Do we really want that to be his legacy?