Inside The NFL

October 03, 1999

HOOKED UP
The Colts' young Manning-Harrison duo showed signs of greatness
against San Diego

"Hey," Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison said to quarterback
Peyton Manning last Saturday night, "we got the signal, right?"

"Got it," Manning said.

Then the two men made a funky hand signal, like the kind a kid
makes to gain entry to his secret tree house club. This was at
the Colts' hotel in San Diego, and the NFL's hottest couple was
making sure everything was in order for the following day's game
against the Chargers: If on Indianapolis's first play from
scrimmage Manning saw standard four-across coverage in the
secondary, with cornerback Terrance Shaw man-to-man on Harrison,
Manning would give his wideout the hand signal, and instead of
running a quick curl, Harrison would get outside Shaw and run a
go pattern.

That's precisely the coverage that Manning saw. He waggled his
hand. Harrison ran the go. Manning threw a perfect rainbow. The
completion went for 46 yards, and the best passing day in Colts
history was under way. Despite getting popped after almost all
his 54 pass attempts by a San Diego defense that ranked first in
the league in '98, Manning threw for a club-record 404 yards,
bettering the mark of 401 set by John Unitas in 1967 against the
Falcons. Harrison finished with 13 catches for 196 yards, both
career bests, including a 33-yard touchdown reception.
Indianapolis rallied from a 19-10 third-quarter deficit to win
27-19.

While many fans and much of the media have been preoccupied with
the collapse of league powers in the season's opening weeks, the
Colts have been quietly building one of the league's most
exciting new aerial connections. In fact, Manning, Harrison,
running back Edgerrin James, wideouts E.G. Green and Jerome
Pathon, and tight end Ken Dilger are arguably the best set of
young skill-position players in the game.

Through Week 3 Manning and Harrison had connected 28 times for
422 yards and six touchdowns. Most impressive was the pair's
Week 2 torching of one of the league's best cornerbacks, Ty Law
of the Patriots. A month after signing a seven-year, $50 million
contract extension, Law was burned by Manning and Harrison for
three first-half touchdowns.

"We have been rewarded for our work," the 6-foot, 180-pound
Harrison said after Sunday's game. Indianapolis coaches like him
because he's not selfish and doesn't make much of statistics he
has piled up in losses. "When Peyton and I were together in our
off-season program for 10 weeks, we always did extra things,"
Harrison says. "The scramble drill, a lot of patterns, getting
our timing down. It's gotten to the point where he looks at me a
certain way, and I know the ball's coming."

Adds Manning, "Marvin and I have a bond, a feel that's hard to
describe. We go to dinner. We hang around. We spend extra time
on the practice field. Even when Marvin's the second or third
read, I know I can count on him to be open. The best thing about
Marvin is if an 18-yard route is called, I know he's going to go
precisely 18 yards. He knows when he gets 15 yards downfield
that I'm itching to throw, or I might be struggling back there.
The ball's going to be in the air before he turns, and he knows
that. Even when a play breaks down, we each know what the
other's doing."

Perfect example: In the first quarter on Sunday, three Chargers
flushed Manning from the pocket. Harrison saw what was going on
and knew he had to get open. "Most times when we'd practice in
the off-season, there'd be a break and I'd say, 'O.K., Marvin,
scramble drill,'" Manning says. "While the other guys were
resting, Marvin and I would run a couple of those plays, where
the pocket breaks down and I throw to him on the run." On Sunday
that play netted 10 yards and a first down, putting the Colts in
position to score their first points, a 35-yard Mike Vanderjagt
field goal.

Taken by Indianapolis with the 19th pick in the 1996 draft,
Harrison says he came out of Syracuse wanting to prove he was
better than the three wideouts selected ahead of him (Keyshawn
Johnson, Terry Glenn and Eddie Kennison). "It's something that
motivates me every day," Harrison says. "I'm still not getting
the respect I deserve around the league, but I'm lucky to have
such a good quarterback to help me and the rest of this team
accomplish great things."

Every day, it seems, people around the Colts see more to like
about Manning. On Sunday it wasn't just the 404 passing yards or
the 12-yard scramble he made for the go-ahead score; it was also
playing with poise and brilliance down the stretch after having
been pummeled repeatedly. On the clinching touchdown drive--with
Indy up 20-19 but facing a third-and-seven from its 45 with 4:30
to go--Manning threw a 13-yard completion to Pathon, the third
wideout. The pass was so low that players and coaches on the San
Diego sideline began motioning that the ball hadn't been caught,
and Chargers coaches in the press box began looking at the
replay on their TVs to determine whether they should challenge
the call.

Manning got sandwiched on the play and never saw how it ended.
Yet he was immediately up and sprinting to the line of
scrimmage, calling a play with no huddle. "All I heard was the
crowd booing and the Chargers yelling it was incomplete," he
said. "So I knew they might call for a replay. If it got
overturned, that would have been deadly for us because we would
have had to punt, and they would have had plenty of time to
drive for the winning field goal or touchdown. So I yelled for
our guys to get to the line. I just yelled, 'Run the draw! Run
the draw!' We ran a quick count, and I handed it to Edgerrin
before they could stop the game for a replay call." Four plays
later Manning threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to wideout Terrence
Wilkins, and the Colts had an eight-point cushion.

Dressing by his locker after the game, Manning was honored to be
mentioned in the same sentence as Unitas, but he preferred to
talk about his sidekick Harrison. He recounted the scramble play
once more and why making something happen on the run is so vital
to the success of a quarterback and receiver. Then he turned to
a reporter and said, "Like Montana to Clark, you know?"

We know. Soon everyone else will know about Manning to Harrison,
too.

FALCONS' WOES MOUNT
Last Season Looks Like a Mirage

The Falcons, 0-3 after a 35-7 loss to the Rams, are looking more
and more like one-year wonders. Quarterback Chris Chandler is as
fragile as bone china, and superback Jamal Anderson is out for
the season after injuring his right knee. Almost as
disconcerting to Atlanta fans is that the team doesn't have a
first-round draft pick in 2000. That went to the Ravens so that
the Falcons could select tight end Reggie Kelly in the second
round of the '99 draft.

Atlanta might look back on the trade to draft Kelly, a backup
who has yet to catch a pass this season, as a monumental
mistake. When healthy, Chandler has been among the league's most
productive quarterbacks, but he has been plagued throughout his
12-year career by injuries, and on Sunday he aggravated a
hamstring injury he sustained in the opener. Backups Tony
Graziani and Danny Kanell don't appear to be the answer, meaning
that if the first-round pick turns out to be a high one, the
Falcons could have blown a shot at a franchise quarterback such
as Purdue's Drew Brees or Louisville's Chris Redman.

On top of all that, there's grumbling in the locker room.
Players are peeved at coach Dan Reeves for suggesting that
Anderson's injury might be traced to a training-camp holdout.
Anderson didn't report until Aug. 11 and suffered the injury
during a Sept. 20 game against the Cowboys. Some defensive
players have also quietly questioned whether the club has its
priorities in order when it comes to signing players to
long-term deals. Defensive-line chemistry was disturbed in
mid-September when tackle Travis Hall, who had three years left
on his contract, was handed a seven-year, $52.5 million
extension while end Lester Archambeau, the club's '98 sack
leader, who is in the final year of his contract, waits for an
offer.

The Falcons have two sacks in three games, and on Sunday former
Arena League quarterback Kurt Warner passed for four touchdowns
and ran for another score. "I told the guys in the huddle that
they couldn't stop us," Warner said afterward. "I felt like I
was back in Arena Football." Ouch.

PANTHERS RUNNING GAME
Biakabutuka's The Man

Before Sunday, Panthers running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka, the
eighth pick in the 1996 draft, who had been hampered by
injuries, could have been labeled a bust. Then he rushed for a
career-high 132 yards on eight carries in a 27-3 rout of the
Bengals, breaking off touchdown runs of 62 and 67 yards. Still,
coach George Seifert plans to continue rotating his backs. He
says he'll play Biakabutuka in the first and third quarters
against the Redskins on Sunday, with Fred Lane playing the
second and fourth. Seifert believes that the two are comparable
in ability and that alternating them keeps them fresh.

The Panthers are in the express lane to nowhere. But
Biakabutuka, who was averaging a robust 6.6 yards a carry even
before his big day, has clearly passed the marginal Lane. When
every yard is so precious for Carolina, it's ridiculous that the
team's most potent offensive weapon isn't on the field for every
snap.

Biakabutuka isn't pressing the issue yet. "The object is to win
games, not be a superhero," he says.

DISPATCHES
Frustration Grows for Moss

Last week Vikings coaches worked with Randall Cunningham on
quickening his delivery--perhaps to head off complaints from
wideout Randy Moss. Those close to Moss say he is getting miffed
about Minnesota's lack of a deep-passing game. Cunningham has
underthrown Moss often this season, and in Sunday's 23-20 loss
to the Packers, Moss had little impact, catching two passes for
13 yards and a touchdown....

The Rams made a great hire when they lured quarterbacks coach
Mike Martz from the Redskins and made him offensive coordinator.
Martz attacks defenses more aggressively than predecessors Mike
White and Jerry Rhome, he had quarterback Kurt Warner well
prepared to take over after the season-ending injury to Trent
Green in August, and he formed a tight bond with oft-injured
wideout Isaac Bruce. After the Rams improved to 2-0 with the win
over the Falcons, coach Dick Vermeil gave Martz a game ball....

Sources close to the process say that of the 30 or so
prospective buyers of the Jets, Cablevision chairman Charles
Dolan (beaten out by Al Lerner for ownership of the Browns) and
Arizona real estate magnate Sam Grossman (who lost the Redskins
to Daniel Snyder) will probably duke it out....

Early Rookie of the Year ballot: 1. Redskins cornerback Champ
Bailey. "As good as [quarterback] Brad Johnson's been on
offense, that's how good Champ's been on defense," says
Washington coach Norv Turner. 2. Colts running back Edgerrin
James. Might be the best back to enter the league since Terrell
Davis in 1995. 3. Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse. He sped
around Browns right tackle Orlando Brown for three sacks in Week
2 and had seven tackles against the Jaguars on Sunday.

THE END ZONE
Another Sapp In the Making

On the locker of Bucs defensive tackle and early NFL sack
co-leader Warren Sapp is a sonogram image of Sapp's expected
son, due March 8, 2000. Written underneath: NEW QB KILLER.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Harrison burned the Chargers for 13 catches and 196 receiving yards, both career bests.

the buzz

1. Identity Crisis
Entering the season it seemed that Treadmills would have been a
more appropriate new name for the Tennessee franchise than
Titans. After all, when known as the Oilers, the club had hit
nothing but dry holes, finishing 8-8 in each of the past three
years and folding whenever the going got tough. But not on
Sunday in Jacksonville, where, in a battle of AFC Central
unbeatens, the Titans rallied from a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit
to defeat the Jaguars 20-19. The 3-0 start was the first for the
franchise since 1991.

2. Magic Act
You can look at the 2-1 Packers one of two ways: They're lucky
they're not 0-3, or they're a gutsy bunch with one of the best
clutch players of this era. Bringing his team from behind in the
last two minutes for the second time in three weeks, Brett Favre
threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to wideout Corey Bradford on
fourth-and-one with 12 seconds left to stun the Vikings 23-20.

3. Look Who's Back
Deion Sanders is scheduled to resume his dual role of
cornerback-punt returner for the Cowboys on Sunday, when Dallas
plays host to the Cardinals. Sanders has been idle for five
months following surgery on his left big toe.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)