DENVER – You knew it was Peyton Manning's day on the Denver Broncos' third snap.
That's when Manning nearly whiffed in snagging the third-and-2 shotgun snap. The football slipped through his fingers, then he bobbled it bit more like a hot potato.
This had disaster written all over it. And maybe it if were 12 degrees at The Razor, it might have resulted in a turnover to set up a quick-gift touchdown for the New England Patriots.
But not here. Not now.
This was Manning's moment.
Rather than getting flustered, he made good on his second effort to clutch the football, spun it around to feel the laces, then found Eric Decker in the right flat for a 7-yard completion.
"It was a good snap," Manning explained after the 26-16 victory secured a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII.
This is why people should not text while driving. Manning suspects that he took his eye off the ball for a split-second as it came in, while he glanced for a pre-snap read on safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory.
"I know my quarterbacks coach will be proud of me," he added, referring to Gregg Knapp. "I was able to go through my progressions and find an open receiver."
When things like that happen -- when a potential busted play early in the game is turned into a positive -- it's surely an omen suggesting that the stars are aligned in your favor.
Manning laughed at such a notion.
"It doesn't guarantee you anything," he said. "But I was smiling. It was a pretty unique play. I'm sure some people will have some comments for me when we're watching the game film."
The Broncos wound up punting on that opening drive, but the tone was set.
It was the only drive that Denver punted on all day. The Broncos scored on each of their next six drives, which says something about the quarterback's zero-turnover efficiency.
The film that Manning mentioned will also show that he was in an undeniable rhythm when it mattered most. Like on two drives – one just before halftime, one right after the break – that gave the Broncos a cushion, 20-3, that would not slip away this time.
Manning picked Denver after a whirlwind free agent tour to win it all.
Now he's one step away.
Try this for a legacy: Manning will go to MetLife Stadium – brother Eli's home park – with a chance to become the first quarterback in NFL history to win Super Bowls with two different franchises.
Amid all the questions about whether he would choke, wilt at the sight of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, slip on a banana or stumble otherwise to add another playoff disappointment to the ledger, Manning, 37, rocked Mile High like no one has since John Elway.
Yeah, that Elway, now the Boss Bronco who took a chance on an aging quarterback coming off multiple neck surgeries.
Manning passed for 400 yards and two touchdowns, and tied a conference championship game record with 32 completions on 43 passes. The passer rating measured at 118.4.
The satisfaction rating was off the charts.
"He went through a lot this year," said Wes Welker, the ex-Patriot who had reason to gloat otherwise, given his acrimonious free agent departure from New England.
"The guy's our leader, and he showed it out there and played a hell of a game."
Never mind that he entered the game, down 10-4 in these head-to-head encounters against Brady.
This was a new day.
For all of the anticipation of Manning-Brady XV – the rivalry in the same stratosphere as Ali-Frazier, Magic-Bird and Letterman-Leno – the game didn't live up to its hype.
Rather than a shootout of gunslingers, it was a coronation for Manning.
Brady, with his depleted supporting cast, never stood much of a chance this time.
The conditions surely seemed ripe for this. The Broncos earned the right to play at home by capturing the No. 1 seed with the AFC's best record. But who knew it would be 63 degrees at kickoff?
Bonus, Manning. Save the cold-weather debate for New York.
Another break came early in the second quarter when Welker collided with Aqib Talib, New England's best cornerback. Talib suffered a knee injury and never returned.
Bonus, Manning. With rookie Logan Ryan replacing Talib, Manning repeatedly went looking for and repeatedly finding Demaryius Thomas, who finished with seven catches for 134 yards.
Yes, the conditions were also ripe in the sense that Manning was backed by the type of big-play defense that he didn't always have during his 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Broncos, led up front by Terrance Knighton, a massive, 325-pound nose tackle known as "Pot Roast," shut down the power rushing attack that had become such a force for the Patriots in recent weeks. New England rushed for 64 yards.
On the back end, 15th-year vet Champ Bailey helped solidify a secondary that lost play-making cornerback Chris Harris last week to a torn ACL. And in between, linebacker Danny Trevarthan was all over the place.
Yes, Manning answered the doubters this time.
And he had plenty of help.
It brings to mind what he insisted on Friday, when I caught him in the Broncos locker room.
Was he feeling the pressure?
"To win in these situations, it's gotta be a team win," Manning told me. "I'm counting on everybody to do their role. And I've got to do my part."
When someone asked him about the scrutiny after Sunday's game, he responded similarly.
"You have to focus on your job," he said. "That's what I was focused on today. Nothing more."
Along the way, it also seemed as though Manning followed the advice he got on Saturday from his big brother, Cooper.
He had fun.
The same could be said for about 75,000 others clad in orange.
Early in the fourth quarter, after a field goal made it 23-3, the people gave the home team a standing ovation and waved their pom-pons to a classic beat.
It was the tune from The Beastie Boys. Fight for Your Right to Party.
Just what you'd expect to hear at a coronation.