Manning Muck-Up

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The front page of The New York Times on Monday captured it all about the Brothers Manning.

To the left was a photo of a disconsolate Peyton, the celebrated signal-caller and pitchman for the now dethroned Super Bowl XLI champion Indianapolis Colts. To the right, stood an exultant Eli, who helmed the New York Giants to an upset of the Dallas Cowboys.

Suffice it to say, executives at CBS and Fox were probably feeling a lot more like Peyton than his kid brother yesterday, over what could have been a pair of 50-million-viewer conference championship games. The outcomes also stripped away any hope of a Super Bowl XLII tale-of-the tape depicting celebrity quarterback

girlfriends — Tony Romo’s starlet Jessica Simpson versus Tom Brady’s supermodel Giselle Bundchen.

While most experts expected a Manning to be playing for a trip to the Super Bowl next weekend, the so-called smart money was riding on Peyton, especially after he came out white hot, completing his first 13 passes against the San Diego Chargers in the last game at Indianapolis’ RCA Dome. But several key turnovers and red-zone failures bridled the Colts. Despite injuries to San Diego’s all-everything LT and starting QB Phillip Rivers, who was enjoying a second straight strong post-season contest before sustaining a knee injury, the Chargers rallied behind back-up Billy Volek and some late pass-rush heat.

That combination denied the nation and CBS of a second consecutive AFC championship match between the Colts and New England. The Nov. 4 contest, in which Brady’s bunch overcame a 10-point deficit, drew 33.8 million, the most for a Sunday afternoon regular-season contest since 1987.

And that average was 12.9 million short of the clubs’ 2007 AFC title tilt. The 46.7 million viewers for that game were the highest total since New England topped Miami in 1986 before 47.5 million on NBC and prior to the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl shuffling of the Raymond Berry- and Tony Eason-led Pats back to Bourbon Street. Last year’s audience was the most for a non-Super Bowl since the Friends finale tallied 52.5 million for the Peacock on May 6, 2004..

With Bill Belichick and the Pats’s pursuit of perfection on the line, 50 million would have fallen as easily as Peyton changes plays at the line of scrimmage, despite the earlier afternoon time slot. The injury-ravaged Chargers trekking to Foxboro doesn’t figure to have that much Nielsen lightning in it.

On the NFC side, Eli’s improved game management skills and second straight turnover-free playoff game helped the G-men move past the Cowboys early in the fourth quarter. In turn, the defensive withstood a pair of last-minute drives by Romo’s troops, which led to a veil of post-game tears from TO. Following up the 25.1 million that tuned in their Nov. 11 meeting, Fox scored a 25.8 overnight rating with their playoff tussle, the highest for a divisional game since 1997, according to Nielsen data.

While New York may be the top Nielsen market, the ‘Boys are America’s Team. A rematch with the Green Bay Packers’ fabled Brett Favre — the Nov. 29 regular-season game roped 10.1 million, the most ever for an NFL Network contest — would have scorched last year’s Bears-New Orleans Saints NFC title game’s 43.2 million average.

Also lost: chances to hear the “voice of God,” the late John Facenda’s "work" for NFL Films in revisiting the “Ice Bowl,” the 1967 NFL title game (Super Bowl II would feature the AFL Oakland Raiders) in which Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr’s Pack snuck past Tom Landry’s men during the waning seconds in the sub-zero conditions and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Early forecasts call for temperatures of around 8-degrees in Green Bay next Sunday. And with the game kicking off in the evening, it figures to get even chillier for attending cheesehead fans and Louisianan Eli. 

Look for a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI — hopefully, with the same outcome.