Colts' QB might as well be wearing a cape
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 11:44 p.m.
Before nearly every play, Peyton Manning barks instructions to his teammates. He waves and points. Put a baton in his hand, and he could be an orchestra conductor.
Sometimes it's just for effect, hoping to fool a linebacker or safety into thinking Manning is switching plays. Often, though, he is making a key adjustment that leads to a long gain or a score.
It might look like chaos, but all of Manning's movements and words help the Indianapolis Colts' offense run perfectly.
"Phenomenal" is how Colts coach Tony Dungy puts it. "He's putting us in the right situations on every play."
That could be an understatement.
Manning is playing so well he's drawing comparisons to Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like John Elway, Brett Favre and Steve Young.
After entering these playoffs with an 0-3 career postseason record, Manning has engineered two victories with stellar stats: He's 44-of-56 for 681 yards and eight touchdown passes.
His passer rating is an almost-perfect 156.9, and he guided Indianapolis to touchdowns on 10 of 17 possessions. He also guided the Colts into the AFC championship game at New England on Sunday.
Against Kansas City in the second round, the Colts just could not stop the Chiefs' offense. Every time Manning was on the field, he knew Indianapolis had to score.
So he produced five touchdowns and a field goal. Simple as that.
"We knew it was going to be that type of game," Manning said. "Kansas City has a lot of big-play players. But our offense has been in rhythm the last couple of weeks."
Well, yeah. And so much of that is Manning's doing.
The Colts often use a hurry-up offense. They don't huddle between plays, instead hustling to the line of scrimmage, which stops opponents from substituting players to fit the situation.
Then Manning surveys who is on the field and in what formation, and he calls the appropriate play. So far, he's been correct on nearly every call, winding up with receivers in one-on-one coverage or a defensive lineup filled with defensive backs trying to stop Edgerrin James' runs.
"We're calling a lot of stuff," Manning said. "I call it being busy at the line of scrimmage."
Adds James: "That's why I call him 'P-Money.' He does an awful lot of studying, and it's not make-believe studying. He's really studying."
When told he would share the NFL MVP award with Titans QB Steve McNair and was voted to the All-Pro team, Manning called it a tribute to his hard work.
"I put a lot of time and effort . . . into this season," he said. "It's something I take pride in."
Manning's cerebral approach to the game also has an impact on opponents. At times, Manning will appear to be calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, when in fact he is not changing anything. But he gets the defense questioning itself, and that can be just as effective as a strong block.
Other times, he's changing everything he called because something he saw on film tipped him off to what the defense is planning.
"He studies the defenses really well," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said after New England held on to beat Indianapolis 38-34 in the regular season. "He just lines everybody up, and he looks and he reads. He calls the plays off of what he reads."
That was evident on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne against the Chiefs. Wayne beat coverage on inside slants throughout the day. But when Manning figured the Chiefs were ready for that, he had Wayne run a double-cut route in which he fakes the slant, then heads to the corner of the end zone.
Awaiting Wayne in the end zone was Manning's perfect spiral.
"He just knows," Wayne said.
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