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Off the Schneid Peyton Manning and Indianapolis blew away Denver for a long-awaited postseason win

Jan. 12, 2004
Jan. 12, 2004

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Jan. 12, 2004

Off the Schneid Peyton Manning and Indianapolis blew away Denver for a long-awaited postseason win

COLTS 41 BRONCOS 10

This is an article from the Jan. 12, 2004 issue Original Layout

The child closed her eyes late in the third quarter, unruffled by
the din inside the RCA Dome. By the time six-year-old Quisha
James fell asleep on the lap of Ashley Manning, their loved ones
had helped turn Sunday's highly anticipated playoff clash between
the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos into a snoozer.

"Man, I thought it was going to be a game," Quisha's father,
Colts running back Edgerrin James, said later. "But things got
kind of boring in the second half, and I guess my little girl
checked out."

All over America grownups in Barcaloungers had a similar
reaction. After AFC South champion Indianapolis rolled to a 41-10
victory over wild card Denver--the very foe that put a 31-17 hurt
on the Colts in the same stadium two weeks earlier--it was time
to remove the label of postseason patsy from Indy. That was also
true for James, All-Pro wideout Marvin Harrison, coach Tony Dungy
(who broke a four-game playoff losing streak) and, most of all,
quarterback Peyton Manning, whose can't-win-the-big-game burden
had felt a thousand times heavier than the child sleeping on his
wife's lap.

"When you're the quarterback and you've got an 0-3 record in the
playoffs, there's a lot of pressure on you," Manning conceded
after the game. "You work all year for another chance, and it
would have been really, really frustrating not to change all
that."

In the best game of his six-year career--hell, in the best game
of almost anyone's career--Manning was composed, confident and in
command. He connected on 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards (327 by
halftime) and five touchdowns, delighting 56,586 fans and sending
the Colts into a divisional playoff with the equally explosive
Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

The Chiefs' primary mission will be to slow Indy's Big Three of
Manning, James (115 combined rushing and receiving yards) and
Harrison (seven catches, 133 yards, two touchdowns), who often
have fantasized during their five seasons together about starring
on a grander stage. A few weeks ago during a practice, Manning
called James and Harrison aside to offer up his latest dream
Super Bowl scenario: third-and-one, Manning play-fakes to James
and runs a bootleg around right end, then hurdles a defender. But
several others converge, and at the last second Manning laterals
to Harrison, who scores the winning touchdown.

"You're crazy, P," Harrison said.

As the Broncos game approached, Manning was similarly playful. On
Wednesday he caught his receivers off guard by apologizing for
having upbraided them repeatedly during the Colts' taut,
division-clinching victory over the Houston Texans the previous
Sunday. "Guys, I'm sorry, and I won't ever raise my voice with
you again," Manning promised, drawing big laughs with that last
comment.

On Friday, Manning learned he'd been voted the NFL's co-MVP,
along with Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, and arrived
home to find a celebratory cake decorated by his wife. ("She left
off the 'co-' part," Peyton noted.) "In the 10 years I've known
him," Ashley said Sunday night, "I've never seen him so relaxed
before a game."

Manning was even looser during the action, throwing the first of
two scoring passes to slot receiver Brandon Stokley (four
catches, 144 yards) on Indy's first drive and producing points on
the Colts' first seven possessions. So spellbound were the
Broncos' defenders that several of them simply stood around after
Harrison's diving catch at the Denver 30 late in the first
quarter. Still untouched after several seconds, Harrison got up
and sprinted to the end zone.

By the time the Broncos realized their mistake, they--and
Quisha--were well on their way to slumberland. --Michael Silver

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN WORTH WATCHING After diving for a catch, Harrison got up and ran past idling Denver players for a touchdown.