(Reuters) - Peyton Manning slumped off the field towards an uncertain future following Denver's divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, with many wondering if they had seen the last of one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time.
If Sunday's game was his last it would mark a humble departure for the five-time league most valuable player, who gave himself a failing grade in a 24-13 loss to the Colts.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock at a subdued Sport Authority Field, television commentators were already wondering if a weary looking 38-year-old Manning would return for an 18th season.
At the post-game news conference it was one of the first questions put to Manning, who side-stepped the query far better than he evaded the Indianapolis pass rush on Sunday.
"My mindset right now is just disappointment after today's game," said Manning. "I kind of need to process this game and we'll meet tomorrow, kind of need to process this game, so I'm disappointed right now.
"I guess I just can't give that simple answer. I'm processing it."
Manning built a Hall of Fame career in Indianapolis, rewriting the record books and taking the Colts to a Super Bowl before moving onto Denver in 2012 when the Colts decided their future lay with the Andrew Luck, who they took with the number one overall pick in that year's draft.
During the regular season Manning set the career record for most touchdown passes and his 69,691 career passing yards are second only to Brett Favre.
If there is one cloud hanging over Manning's brilliant career it is that despite all the individual honors and awards his Hall of Fame resume includes just one Super Bowl win in three trips to the championship game.
In 24 playoff games his record is a pedestrian 11-13 and Sunday's loss to the Colts may go down as one of his worst.
Trying to get back to the Super Bowl and atone for last season's humiliating loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Broncos fans had little to cheer after Manning engineered a touchdown drive on Denver's opening possession.
Manning completed 26 of 46 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown but uncharacteristically missed open receivers and fumbled once, which the Colts converted into a touchdown.
While many refused to lay the blame at the quarterback's feet, the 13-time Pro Bowler was not as forgiving when it came to assessing his own performance.
"I've always taken a pretty accurate look and fair evaluation of myself," said Manning. "I'm probably as critical of myself as anyone else and didn't play well enough today."
The Colts move onto the AFC championship next Sunday against the New England Patriots.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Peter Rutherford)