When last we left audible ball, Peter King, he was imagining a world in which he was the unquestioned ruler and yet he still spent all of his time yelling at the people who make his coffee. His end-of-the-year awards only included two ties, an all-time low for Peter. PK also continued bemoaning the fact that Mike Zimmer hasn’t been hired as a head coach because apparently PK gets a cut of any future Zimmer HC money.

But what about this week? Brace yourself for the details of the Ray Lewis-Peyton Manning exchange that Peter King barely heard. Will anyone ever scale Mount Patriot? Probably not without a team of white sherpas. For further information on how every single thing about Russell Wilson is loveable, READ ON.

Ray Lewis was sick Saturday night, 90 minutes after the Ravens had stunned the Broncos here, and he was waiting in a stadium anteroom to be connected with Deion Sanders for an NFL Network interview. “Flu?” someone asked him. He nodded in the midst of a coughing jag, said he’d had it all week, sounding like a Contagion victim.

It was just like the Jordan flu game, except Ray Lewis mostly sucked and had little to do with his team winning.

He did not look good, and if it hadn’t been Deion on the other end, Lewis would have walked away.

Good call. No reason to waste your strength mugging for media coverage unless it’s a former teammate representing a national network.

Then word came from a Ravens security man that waiting in the locker room was the vanquished Peyton Manning, who wanted to see him. And Lewis very much wanted to see Manning. As NFL Network technical people fiddled with the connection, seconds passed. Patience got thin.

Ooh, edge of my seat drama. Will these two media darlings get to make googily eyes at each other or won’t they?

“I’m missing a great warrior right now,” Lewis said to no one, a sense of urgency in his voice.

The finest champion of the war-mongering MacBook people.

Peyton and Lewis talked quietly, out of earshot, for four minutes. It’s right that no one would hear it.

At the time, Peter screamed that he should be able to listen and rub his nipples as the conversation transpired. It was only later, after being released by security and undergoing a latte enema, that PK realized that privacy was best for Pey-Pey and Ray-Ray.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few of these postgame meetings between friends or stars with admiration for each other. Most often it’s a handshake, a few whispered words, a hug, and one is off to his team bus and the other off to his life. This was longer.

Sexier.

This was one of the greatest linebackers of all time, in the last month of his football life, and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, after one of his toughest losses, who had to say goodbye to Lewis. I heard only one word out of either man, standing a few yards away, and it was Lewis saying, “Respect.” Not sure of the context, but come on. Connect the dots.

RESPECT THE SUN! Every Hall of Famer knows this.

The buses were waiting for Lewis, and he had to go, but Ashley said, with a touch of the fan in her, and knowing that Marshall Manning one day would appreciate it, “Can I get a picture?”

Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, Marshall Manning. Smiling for the iPhone.

Two star players going through something emotional with an Apple product. That’s Peter King spank material for life.

Ray Lewis in, Peyton Manning out. Colin Kaepernick in, Aaron Rodgers out. Tony Gonzalez in (more importantly to a very fidgety fandom, Matt Ryan in), the ridiculously charismatic Russell Wilson out.

Fuck you. Fuck you ridiculously.

Tom Brady in, Arian Foster out. No Brady-Manning XIV this weekend, but who won’t watch Lewis chase the Brady hurry-up offense.

I know. It’s gonna be hilarious.

And Seahawks-Niners III would have been a San Francisco treat

but I’ll take the NFL’s fastest-rising star since Tebow, Colin Kaepernick, on the fast track of the Georgia Dome. The championship weekend lineup’s pretty good, even without Manning.

But I thought Christian God and Zeus and handful other deities wanted another Pey-Pey Super Bowl. What will appease Omicron The Horsehead god now?

In their last three meetings, New England’s beaten Baltimore twice, but Flacco has five more touchdown passes (seven to two) than Brady, and has thrown for 107 more yards. Flacco’s a good road quarterback. So the seventh conference title game in the Belichick-Brady Era sets up to be a dramatic game, even without the specter of it being — for the third straight week — Ray Lewis’ last football game. “He’s like the godfather of football,” Vince Wilfork said.

Because godfathers typically kill people?

/low-hanging fruit

And while we’re at it, Denver coaches, you’ve got 3rd-and-7 at your 47 at the two-minute warning. Baltimore’s out of timeouts. You’ve got one of the greatest third-down-conversion quarterbacks ever, with two tight ends he trusts implicitly. And you run your third tailback into the middle of the line? Seriously?

Nope. Just an elaborate joke on you, big guy. We had you going, didn’t we? It’s still 3rd and 7 with two minutes to go in Denver. They’ll pick it back up tomorrow.

Then, with 31 seconds and two timeouts left at your 20, the game now tied, Manning kneels? Double seriously?

UBER SERIOUSLY!?

I’m serious:

Super cereal.

Either Peyton Manning was injured and the Broncos told no one, or that’s Coaching Negligence 101.

Taught at the University of Schottenheimerville.

“That was an audible,” Manning said of the 3rd-and-7 Hillman run. “Don’t put that on [offensive coordinator] MIke McCoy.” Okay. I still don’t like it.

Wait, so what the fuck was the last few paragraphs for? You knew when you sat your fat ass down to right this column that it is Peyton’s audible, but you still gave into your temptation to blame it on other people. That’s fucking pathological.

In the quiet of the Ravens’ locker room, after Manning saw Lewis and Lewis walked out of the room, Manning saw me

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

and we briefly re-lived the fateful throw.

“His hand was his hand. My scrotum was the football.”

All season, he’s been telling people his arm strength was a work in progress, and it certainly still is. He beat himself up for making a throw that an aging quarterback probably shouldn’t have tried, and certainly not an aging quarterback coming off four neck surgeries in this comeback season.

“I should never have thrown that ball,” he said.

Then Peter hugged him, cried and offered one more beej to close out the 2012 season. Peyton declined and the crying only intensified.

The Colin Kaepernick Show, episode eight.

Buffalo passed on him twice, and Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Miami, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Kansas City and the Jets once apiece. Buddy Nix, Rod Graves, Mike Reinfeldt, Gene Smith, Rick Spielman, Jeff Ireland, Tom Heckert, Howie Roseman, Scott Pioli and Mike Tannenbaum — the GMs who passed on Kaepernick in the 2010 draft — must be asking themselves, “Maybe we should have seen this trend coming.”

Notice one thing about those 10 draft-day deciders: Six have been fired since the day Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall by the Niners in April 2011.

More hindsight shaming. That’s always fun, especially when King didn’t advise any of these teams to draft Kaep when he was coming out.

No quarterback GQs it like Matt Ryan.

Except for Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez, two quarterbacks who have actually appeared on the cover of GQ.

When I met him one night at the Scouting Combine in 2008, he wore a dark suit, blue Oxford shirt, and dress shoes. Yesterday, after the biggest win of his life, he wore a suit, thin tie with tie clasp. Par for his course. The theory is, as with many quarterbacks these days, Ryan represents the company, and he wants the public to see the best side of him.

Because no other star players ever dress nice coming to the stadium, except most of them. Probably not a good sign for Matty Ice that PK has to strain that hard for something to fluff him on.

Atlantans since the 2008 draft have seen a quarterback who said and did all the right things … except win a playoff game. He’d lost three, and played poorly, overall, in them, and so the pressure was on him in a very big way to win this one. But he did something different this year: In the past, he’d still watched college basketball and the occasional SportsCenter during January. No more sports. No more newspapers, websites or talk radio either. He spent the last two weeks being blissfully unaware of his surroundings.

“What’d you watch instead?” a few scribes wondered in a small cluster with the natty Ryan Sunday.

He seemed embarrassed for a second. “TMZ, a little bit,” he said. “The NFL’s so big, it’s hard to completely ignore it, but I tried.”

But he liked the sports ban. He liked not hearing the public outcry about do-or-die for this current iteration of the Falcons. “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s good to be naïve.”

It’s hard to quit monitoring trolls cold turkey, so I understand Ryan’s lapse by turning on TMZ. Still, respect for telling a media whore how great it is to live without media whores. Though I’m sure the irony was lost on Petey.

Quashing the quashee.

The 2013 season will be Bill Cowher’s seventh in a row without coaching in the NFL.

On Tuesday, at a CBS Super Bowl media event, Newsday’s Neil Best asked Bill Cowher if he planned to coach again one day. “Yeah,” Cowher said. “It would be a challenge, but I think that’s probably why I would get back into it, because of the challenge.”

On Saturday, on The NFL Today, on CBS, Cowher said: “Contrary to reports, I have no plans on coaching. I plan on being with one team, and that is this team here at CBS.”

That’s what I love to see: a man dispelling a rumor about himself that he started.

Cowher said he’d at one point like to return to coaching, so of course the media interpreted that as returning right away next season, which isn’t necessarily what he meant. So Cowher had to clarify that he isn’t exploring jobs at this very moment. Oh yeah, Peter just signed a contract extension with SI last last week, so he’s going to get more money to suck this much. Also, kill me now.

Fine Fifteen

2. New England (13-4). First for Ray Lewis there was Andrew Luck, then Peyton Manning, and now Tom Brady. Quite a retirement fair he’s holding.

Welp, no chance for hosting Russell Wilson, so it won’t be the ridiculously charming precocious retirement fair it could have been.

3. Baltimore (12-6). A bit unfair, but true: Joe Flacco, seven playoff wins in five years; Peyton Manning, nine playoff wins in 14 years. Flacco tries to make it eight Sunday against the Patriots.

Nice troll point. TROLL COUNTERPOINT: Flacco will be 0-3 in conference championship games if he loses Sunday. Peyton has won two of those.

I can only assume PK is getting off cheap shots on Peyton because he either asked if he could or Peyton demanded it as motivating tool for next year.

6. Houston (13-5). The Texans trying to scale Mount Patriot

The snowiest, grittiest mountain of them all.

reminds me of the Colts trying to do it once Tom Brady took over as quarterback. Indy lost the first six Brady-Peyton duels by an average of 14 points a game. Hang in there, Matt Schaub.

Comparing Peyton to Matt Schaub might actually be the meanest thing I’ve ever seen written about Pey-Pey. Jeez, Peyton must have been really rude about rebuffing those PK sexual favors.

8. Green Bay (12-6). Not to be a sports radio host or anything, but watching the Green Bay defense look so powerless and feeble Saturday, I wondered if Mike McCarthy would seriously think about replacing Dom Capers as defensive coordinator.

Yes, you’d have to be the lowest of the low in the sports media totem pole to hold accountable a coordinator for a disastrously inept defense.

11. Minnesota (10-7). I don’t believe in this day and age and 16-game schedule that Adrian Peterson will ever run for 2,500 yards. But I believe he can, and will, break Eric Dickerson’s record sometime in the next three years.

Purple Jesus can break Dickerson’s record, but not by nearly 400 yards, apparently. Good to know.

Text Message of the Week

“The Seahawks are my new favorite team.”

– Brett Favre, in a text to Seattle kicker Ryan Longwell, sent Tuesday, a couple of days after the injury in Washington to Steven Hauschka on Jan. 6. Longwell is a close friend of Favre’s, and was one of the three Vikings who flew to Mississippi to persuade Favre to return to the Vikings for one last season in 2010.

Feeling pretty validated for all my Seahawks hate this year, you guys.

Defensive Players of the Week

Rob Ninkovich, LB, New England. With the Pats holding a 24-13 lead in the third quarter but pesky Houston driving, Ninkovich, this Patriots generation’s Mike Vrabel-esque big-playmaker

“A LATTAH DAY GRITBACKER FO-AH AWL TO ENJOY!”

leaped high to snare an interception from Matt Schaub. Not a great throw, but a better pick.

“INTAHCEPTIONS OF HAHHHRAHBLE PASSES AHHHH BETTAH SOMEHOW! NO ONE DENIES THIS!”

Corey Graham, CB, Baltimore. I thought he was the best defensive player on the field, easily, in Baltimore’s double-overtime win over Denver. His 39-yard touchdown return of a tipped interception gave Baltimore a 14-7 lead early.

Best defensive player in a game in which 70 points were scored in regulation. Lofty. Also, the Ravens got away with obvious PI on that pick-six. Even dipshit Dierdorf noticed it.

Goats of the Week

Rahim Moore, FS, Denver.

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver. For the throw he’ll be beating himself up about all offseason, the across-his-body, very weak throw that Corey Graham intercepted in overtime Saturday. Baltimore turned it into the winning field goal in the second overtime of a game that’ll live forever, for different reasons.

For reasons that dare not speak their name.

Quote of the Week I

“Y’all tell Richard Sherman to get some humble pie! And you tell him I said it!”

– Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel, walking through the Falcons’ locker room after Atlanta’s win over Seattle, apparently figuring Sherman was a little mouthy even for the taste of the mouthiest player in the league (Samuel).

Nice try Richard Sherman, but it’ll take some doing to lead the league in mouthiness. Personally, I figured Terrell Suggs scary alien mouth would take the title, but it seems Asante holds the title.

Quote of the Week VI

“If I want to see self-serving behavior, warped decision-making, dangerous rationalizations and chuckleheads mortgaging the future, I can go back to watching Congress.”

– New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, on the paper’s Op-Ed page, harshly critical of the handling of the Robert Griffin III injury situation in the NFC Wild Card game eight days ago by coach Mike Shanahan and Griffin himself.

Finally, someone with the courage to make generic, warmed-over digs at Congress. TAKE THAT, FAT CATS!

Stat of the Week I

When the Patriots and Ravens met in 2010, Flacco and Brady each completed 27 passes.

When the Patriots and Ravens met in the conference title game last season, Flacco and Brady each completed 22 passes.

When the Patriots and Ravens met in September of this season, Flacco and Brady each completed 28 passes.

XEROX OF COMPLETE-Y-NESS! WEIRD!!!!

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me II

John Clayton’s terrific ad spot on ESPN — “Hey Ma! I’m done with my segment!” — is obviously the greatest commercial of all time.

Obviously. Peter can’t make up his mind about comeback player of the year, but best commercial of all-time? That he knows.

I saw John in the press box Sunday in Atlanta, and I asked him how many takes he had to do of turning and jumping into bed backward before he began chowing down on the Chinese.

“Twenty-two,” he said.

But did he ever make it to the mall? YOU’RE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS LIKE ALWAYS, PETER.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

I have this reaction to getting back out on the NFL road for the playoffs after a season mostly in the NBC studios: Road, I’ve missed you.

Back into the warm embrace of Road, where Peter has things to bitch about other than Frenchies and their precious Starbucks biscotti.

Went to Seattle to do some interviews Wednesday and Thursday. Misty mostly, raining some, fabulous always.

Remote forever.

“People don’t appreciate Seattle,” Sidney Rice told me. “I live in Miami in the offseason, but I’ve learned to love it here, especially in the spring and summer when I’m here.”

“I love this place I’m compelled to be at!”

Happily squeezed in time for a couple of Manny’s Pale Ales, my second-favorite beer in the world …

“You do all right, Manny’s, but you can’t fuck with THE ‘GASH!”

Passing an elementary school with kids out on the playground, I saw one boy with a “You Mad Bro?” t-shirt. Told Richard Sherman. He said, stunned: “No!!!!”

Is Richard Sherman pretending that he invented that expression? I clearly underestimated how much I should hate him.

Denver: Has anyone ever had a smooth approach upon landing at the Denver airport? Not me, either at the old one or new space-age one. I guess it’s the proximity to the mountains, but in 33 years I’ve had some armrest-grippers, like the one on Frontier Airlines around 11 Thursday night … Balls of snow pelted the rental car on I-25 Friday. Not flakes. Audible little balls. Never saw or heard that before …

Except Peyton’s balls audibly slapping against your chin.

A pleasure to eat a bison burger with Lindsay Jones and Robert Klimko of USA Today at one of Denverite Jones’ favorite local spots, My Brother’s Bar, on the northern edge of downtown. Just a bar with burgers, but there was something distinctly un-modern, and superb, about it.

Wow, that’s totally not a thing you can find in numerous cities.

As one of the locals at the bar told me, “No TV. No music. If you come here, you have to actually talk to people!” And no sign on the front of the place. One of the best things about traveling this country is finding places like My Brother’s Bar …

From reader Patrick:

“If you’re unaware or nobody else has told you, My Brother’s Bar–Denver’s oldest mind you–is well-known for playing classical music, not no music as reported by Mr. King.

He might’ve noticed if he ever shut the fuck up.”

OK, so I’m not in half-marathon shape right now.

But running three miles on the treadmill at my hotel downtown was, well, altitudinous.

Totally the altitude’s fault. No connection to your diet of IPAs, burgers and quarterback bukkake.

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about the conference semifinal weekend:

c. FootballZebras.com with educational speculation that Terry McAulay and Bill Leavy will be reffing the conference title games this weekend.

Wait, there’s a chance Bill Leavy could’ve reffed the NFC Championship Game if the Seahawks made it? Now I’m kind of sad they lost.

d. ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio breaking the Rob Gronkowski re-break of the forearm.

Peter already credited Florio for the scoop earlier in the column but he’s DOUBLE SERIOUS about plugging his NBC partner in trolling again. Hope everyone is as diligent about crediting Florio when Terry Bradshaw dies since Floors had that story years ago.

e. Seventeen tackles for Ray Lewis. Now, he’s the not the sideline-to-sideline force he used to be; we can all see that. And he gets beat on simple crossing routes now. But he shows up with a ferocity the Ravens will struggle to replace next year.

Ferocious liabilities are the best liabilities.

f. Joe Flacco’s complete and utter disregard for caring about his contract — at least publicly. Refreshing.

That’s what agents are for and Flacco’s was quick to announce his client’s newfound eliteness after the win, so shut the fuck up just because Flacco isn’t putting on the bitchfest he was last postseason.

l. Tony Gonzalez getting the monkey — “no, it’s a gorilla” — off his back, finally winning a playoff game in his 16th starry season.

No, it’s a grape ape!

Actually happy for Gonzo, btw. He was awesome.

m. Everything about Russell Wilson

“His semen tastes like Christmas! And nutmeg! And it spreads so well on toast.”

particularly having the presence of a 10-year vet when it comes to knowing when to run and when to buy time to find a receiver.

I think he means awareness instead of presence, unless Peter is preoccupied with the idea of the presence of Precocious Balls in his mouth.

n. The way Bill Belichick won’t be a slave to the running back position. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis wants to make $3 million a year somewhere, God bless him. Belichick just figures he can find a good back. On Sunday it was Shane Vereen, and he gave the Pats three touchdowns.

What a visionary that Grumblelord is. When facing down an ungrateful perfectly average running back like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Belichick had the unshakable courage to replace him with one of 30 alternatives who are just as good.

2. I think this is what I didn’t like about conference semifinal weekend:

a. I realize that everyone is in the habit of calling them the “Divisional Playoffs” and that this column is even labeled as such, but I think the name is dumb. Pick something better. “Conference Semifinals” or “Final Eight.” Anything but “Divisional Playoffs.”

Perfect Peter King gripe. Bemoan something then offer no suitable solutions. In fact, offer worse ideas than the one already in place.

d. Awful game for Ed Reed. Invisible. Missed the tackle on the Demaryius Thomas go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Had to be the worst playoff game he’s ever played.

Who also missed a tackle on that play? Yup, Ray Lewis. Ed Reed might be retiring after this season. God knows he’s threatened to do it the last three years. But at least Ed Reed isn’t making this entire postseason about him. Because Ed Reed is actually a decent person. Once again, fuck Ray Lewis with a harpoon gun.

e. Some Baltimore players’ hooting and hollering disrespect of USA Today reporter Robert Klimko in the locker room Saturday night. They were angry at him for recently asking Ray Lewis for comment about his 2000 murder case for a USA Today story written by another writer. I realize Lewis isn’t talking about it, and I realize his teammates have his back. But there’s no need to try to intimidate a writer trying to do his job. Guys, there’s an easy way to dismiss a story. Say, “No comment.” Say it three or four times and we’ll go away. Verbal abuse doesn’t make the story go away.

Breaking news: Ray Lewis isn’t the only asshole on the Ravens. And I was just trying to say something nice about Ed Reed.

f. Denver turning more arch-conservative than Bill O’Reilly Saturday.

Oh ho ho! Did Maureen Dowd lend you that gem?

8. I think it would be hard for me to go to the office today, or anytime soon, if I were Mike Zimmer.

Well, he doesn’t have to because the Bengals are fucking eliminated. He has a few more months to mourn his horrible injustice.

9. I think that, while I agree that the Eagles’ aggressiveness in interviewing the best college coaches (minus Nick Saban) in the country is good, it says much about the impression of this franchise that Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien and Brian Kelly all either turned down the chance to coach the team or withdrew their names from consideration after being interviewed.

I understand the vagaries of college coaches interviewing for jobs, and how some of them (most, maybe) want to use the interviews to better their lots in college. But the Eagles have averaged 10.4 wins a year, with nine playoff appearances since the turn of the century. That’s about as good as it gets, aside from the Super Bowl drought, in a highly competitive league. But now, this could be a team trending downward.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a club statement: “There is no question we spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking at who we thought were the best collegiate candidates for our head coaching job. We did so knowing that there was a remote chance that these coaches would leave their current posts. We understood that going into the process, but we wanted to leave no stone unturned while trying to find the best head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. We have no regrets about the effort we made in that direction and we will continue to proceed as planned in our search.”

Fine. But would three premier college coaches say no to the Steelers? The Giants? The Packers? Don’t think so.

Because those are the teams DOIN’ IT THE RIGHT WAY.

That’s awe-inspiring Eagles trolling from Peter King. I kid you not. I’m actually kind of impressed. Who knew he that kind of inspiration in him. Hanging out with Florio has done wonders.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Saw Zero Dark Thirty, and loved it. I have no idea, of course, how accurate the chase for Osama bin Laden by a CIA agent named Maya (and Jessica Chastain is brilliant in the role) is. All I know is it’s 157 minutes of edge-of-the-seat story-telling.

But didn’t PK’s squishy liberalism have a problem with all the torture scenes? Just kidding. I don’t give a shit.

b. No clue how Best Picture will be chosen this year. Brutally difficult. I’ve seen four of the nominees, and this is the order I’d have them in: 1. Argo, 2. Zero Dark Thirty, 3. Lincoln, 4. Silver Linings Playbook … and I really liked Silver Linings Playbook.

No four-way tie? So it’s only in football where Peter can’t make up his mind?

c. Best actor among the four? I’d have Daniel Day-Lewis edging Bradley Cooper.

d. OK. That’s the end of amateur hour at the movies. I’m no Rotten Tomatoes.

Because you have even more conflicts of interest with the subject you cover?

h. Coffeenerdness: Thanks, Caffe Fiore, in my daughter’s Seattle neighborhood, for the great latte Thursday morning. Excellent espresso. Jolting.

i. Beernerdness: The Great Divide Brewing Company gave me my new beer of the road trip: Denver Pale Ale. Crisp, hoppy, smooth. With a great slogan: “Great minds drink alike.”

The wonders of the Road. To drink, to jolt again. Finally, aware from the oppression of Manhattan chain restaurants. There’s certainly no great food or drink to be found there.

j. Re the Baseball Hall of Fame: I’m just a fan of the game, so I can’t tell you my vote would be qualified for anything but an argument at a bar. But I’d probably have —

Nope. Fuck off. It’s bad enough I have to listen to your misinformed football opinions as it is.

l. Off to Atlanta for the NFC game later this week. Mike Nolan’s a smart man, and I expect he’ll have some good theories on how to pen in Kaepernick.

Well, he could barely get any pressure on Russell Wilson, so I’m sure that defense will fare better with someone even faster.

The Adieu Haiku

Peyton and playoffs.
Nine and eleven. That hurts.
But numbers don’t lie.

Get tough on Peyton?
Only so after the fact
And with permission

[GIF via]