Unhappy ending


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning and the Colts played with the aggressiveness and passion they need to win in the playoffs. Now they must figure out a way to duplicate that effort in January.

With Manning running through defenders, shredding a depleted Miami secondary and watching his maligned defense force Miami to kick five field goals, the Colts hung on to the AFC's No. 3 seed Sunday with a 27-22 victory.

Manning threw two touchdown passes and bulled into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run.

Coach Tony Dungy sounded more relieved than overjoyed.

"You could see how much this game meant to us," he said. "That (Manning's run) was something where he usually slides there at about the three or four. We had backs running hard late, and we had good, good intensity throughout the game."

It was a stark contrast from the failures of the previous six weeks when the Colts lost four times and blew their chance to earn a first-round bye.

Instead, Indy (12-4) reverted more to its traditional form by playing with the lead. The Colts also completed their first perfect home season since 1958.

Next up: Protecting their home turf against Kansas City and Larry Johnson in a wild-card game next Saturday.

Indy now heads into the postseason with momentum — something it desperately needed.

"The idea, obviously, is to be playing some of your best football in the month of January," said Manning, the two-time MVP who is still trying to take the Colts to the Super Bowl for the first time. "It's what we've kind of talked about."

Manning was his usual efficient self against Miami, completing 22-of-37 for 282 yards. His supporting cast, however, had a different look.

Defensive tackle Dan Klecko lined up at fullback and caught the first touchdown of his four-year NFL career early in the second quarter. Aaron Moorehead set up Manning's TD run with a nifty 36-yard reception late in the first half, and Cato June's interception on the Dolphins' final play of the half led to Adam Vinatieri's field goal that made it 17-6.

The Dolphins (6-10) lost their third straight.

Running back Ronnie Brown rushed 21 times for 115 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark late in the third quarter.

Quarterback Cleo Lemon, making his NFL starting debut, looked solid most of the day. At times, however, he played like a rookie. While finishing 18-of-36 for 210 yards, Lemon made a poor decision by throwing into coverage just before the half and his desperation pass at the end sailed out of the end zone.

The Dolphins only touchdown came on a 6-yard pass from Lemon to Randy McMichael with 3:11 left.

"I thought he played with great poise and patience," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. Saban is expected to be offered more than $40 million this week to coach at the University of Alabama, according to ESPN.com

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