He and his Denver Broncos were helpless, hopeless and hapless in a 43-8 loss to Seattle, which turned in one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history against the greatest offense in NFL history.
Manning had the best season of any quarterback, and the Broncos offense scored a record 606 points.
No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense. It’s all everyone heard about going into this game.
Manning and his Broncos were completely outmanned by a defense like no other. This was men against boys, Super Bowl style.
"Our defense is one of the best that has ever played," Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett said without hesitation. "We just have so many great players. I can’t believe the NFL even lets us all play on the same defense. Guys like me, [free safety] Earl Thomas and [defensive end] Cliff Avril. It’s just unfair."
It looked unfair to the Broncos, a team that had manhandled almost every defense it faced this season.
But then they met the Seahawks' defense and became unwatchable.
"Watching the film on them, we saw they hadn’t played a defense like ours," middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They hadn’t played a defense that flies around like we do, that hits like we do and does it on every single play."
Seattle had two interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Seahawks shut out Manning and the Broncos in the first half before allowing one meaningless touchdown in the third quarter, long after the outcome had been decided.
Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith was the Super Bowl MVP, the first defensive player to win it since Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson in 2003. Smith had a 69-yard pick-six, a fumble recovery and 10 tackles. And he spent most of the season as a backup.
"It’s unbelievable," Smith said. "No way I thought this could happen, but it feels good. I just feel so fortunate to be a part of this defense.
"Peyton is a great quarterback, and they have a great offense, but we felt they hadn’t seen a defense with the amount of speed we have."
If ever the MVP trophy should have gone to a group, this game was it. You could have picked a half-dozen guys on Seattle's defense, including strong safety Kam Chancellor -- who had 10 tackles and an interception -- and Wagner, who had 10 tackles.
Avril had two pass deflections, one of which led to Smith's pick-six. Defensive end Chris Clemons forced a fumble and had a deflection.
Officially, the Seahawks had only one sack, but they were in Manning’s face most of the night.
"We knew if we got pressure on Manning, we could affect the outcome of the game," Avril said. "That’s what we did tonight."
They did it without any tricks or surprises.
"We didn’t change anything we do," Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We let our guys play in the situations they are comfortable with. It wasn’t about [Denver]. It was about us playing the way we play."
And that meant getting after Manning.
"I know our guys know how to rush," Quinn said. "But we didn’t talk about sacks. We talked about moving Peyton off his spot. If we did that, we knew they would have to deal with us."
Manning has the ability to outsmart and out-think any defense. But Sunday, he looked like a confused kid against the neighborhood bullies.
Some people said this Super Bowl would determine his legacy. Hogwash. Manning’s legacy is secure. But no man, not even Superman, could have gotten it done against the Seahawks' defense Sunday night.
Don’t be misled by the statistics. Manning set a Super Bowl record for passes completed with 34 out of 49 throws. And receiver Demaryius Thomas had a record 13 receptions.
How utterly meaningless those numbers are. Most of those completions and catches came long after the outcome had been determined.
From the first play, it was a disaster for the Broncos. The opening snap sailed over Manning’s head for a safety.
It only got worse.
The Seahawks' defensive line dominated the game -- ferocious, fierce and overwhelmingly physical. They smacked the Broncos in the mouth, and Denver's offense couldn’t smack back.
"We know when we play up to our capabilities, no offense can beat us," Bennett said. "I think a lot of people who doubted us feel pretty stupid right now."
One historically great player was no match for a defense full of hungry, young players with a bad-boy image and a toughness that defined a championship season.
"I couldn’t be more proud of these guys," Quinn said. "We played the game on our terms. We just talked about playing our style, which is fast and physical. It’s an attitude."
It was an attitude that made history against a quarterback for the ages. In a season to cherish, Seattle's defense finished with a Super Bowl performance to remember.