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Pass the torch? Luck surges past Manning in big spot

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Peyton Manning might have watched his last best chance to win another Super Bowl turn to dust. It's fitting he was turned away by the quarterback who replaced him in Indianapolis and may one day surpass him in the record books.

You're going to hear a lot of "pass the torch" talk this week after the Colts knocked off the No. 2-seed Broncos on Sunday at Mile High. And while it should be stated that the world's best quarterback currently plays in the land of cheese, all that torch talk won't be without merit. For 15 years, Manning has been seen as the quarterback's quarterback -- an ideal combination of size, smarts, preparation, instincts and skill that allowed him to dominate the league long after his physical skills had peaked.

But after watching Manning and Andrew Luck share a field on Sunday, it's hard to deny these are two players on opposite career trajectories. Manning did virtually nothing after Denver's opening touchdown drive. He missed on a series of deep balls in the first half, each throw fluttering through the air and just beyond the fingertips of his receivers.

When Manning tried to do damage underneath in the second half, there was nowhere to go. Indy's secondary had called his bluff. The Broncos might have set an NFL record for 3rd-and-7 situations in this game.

Luck, meanwhile, was in total control throughout. He made several throws that Manning couldn't have made in 2005, let alone 2015, repeatedly beating Denver's high-priced secondary in big spots. Even Luck's two interceptions weren't true setbacks, acting as pretty solid punts for Indy.

The Colts iced the game on a field-goal drive that chewed over eight minutes of the final quarter. You can only imagine what was going through Manning's head on the sidelines. For years he's been the guy who rips the defense's heart out in a spot like this. Now he had a front-row seat.

The scary part is that Luck will get better. He's just 25 and probably several years away from the point where the mental side of the game fully catches up to his physical ability. Manning is a different story. He's 38 and at a stage where his arm strength has become a major liability. After Sunday's loss, he wasn't even ready to commit to another season. The future is highly uncertain in Denver.

The Broncos made the absolute right move when they signed Manning prior to the 2012 season, just as the Colts made the wise decision to let Manning go and select Luck with the first overall pick. The two stars will always be intertwined, but this might be the last time they intersect.

Luck has taken the torch. Don't be surprised if he runs with it as long as Manning did.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Divisional Round game and ranks the remaining quarterbacks still standing. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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