At midseason, one dimension has been plenty for 8-0 Colts

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Monday Morning Qb

November 06, 2006|By KEN MURRAY

In a rivalry played out in prime time, Peyton Manning and the resilient Indianapolis Colts last night showed why they're still the team to beat in the AFC.

This time, Tom Brady couldn't match Manning's prolific passing game. In a 27-20 loss to the Colts, neither could the New England Patriots' defense contain the hottest quarterback in the NFL.

Manning threw for more than 300 yards (326) for the third straight game. His two touchdown passes helped overcome a negligible rushing game (53 yards) and a defense vulnerable to a power game.

At 8-0 halfway through the season, the Colts continue to be a one-dimensional team, albeit an almost unbeatable dimension in Manning. Their strategy is simply to score first and make the opponent try to match their offense. So far, no one has been able to do that.

Brady ultimately pressed in his bid to keep the Patriots in the game, throwing a career-high four interceptions. Two of them came on tipped passes, both intercepted by linebacker Cato June.

The victory was only Manning's second against Brady in eight tries, but his second straight at Gillette Stadium. The statement the Colts made was that they're not going away.

Bears' invincibility vanishes

There was no miracle comeback for the Chicago Bears yesterday, and no fourth-quarter collapse by their opponent. This time, the turnovers stuck.

Six of them were gift-wrapped a 31-13 upset for the Miami Dolphins, ending any pretense that the Bears could actually make a run at 16-0.

What we learned about the Bears in Week 9 is that they are a vulnerable, if not overrated, pacesetter in the NFC North. They still might get home-field advantage in the mediocre NFC, but now they're going to have to earn it.

Starting next week, they play three straight games - and four of five - on the road. They face the New York Giants and Jets at the Meadowlands the next two weeks. Then they visit the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams around a home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

For the second time this season, the Bears' Rex Grossman looked like the inexperienced quarterback he is, with only seven NFL starts in three previous seasons. He was intercepted three times and lost a fumble against Miami. Unlike the Bears' Monday night miracle in Arizona on Oct. 16, he got no reprieve this time.

What's more, the Dolphins stripped away any mystique the Bears' defense may have built up when Ronnie Brown ran for a career-high 157 yards.

Not on the "Money"

In Indianapolis, Mike Vanderjagt used to call himself "Money" because he was at his best in clutch situations. Then he missed a long kick that would have sent the Colts into overtime in an AFC divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he hasn't been the same since.

Vanderjagt's career has hit the skids this season with the Dallas Cowboys. Yesterday, after he made field goals of 33 and 30 yards, his potential game-winning 35-yarder was blocked by the Washington Redskins. A face-mask penalty against Dallas on the return set up Nick Novak for a 47-yard kick with no time left, and the Redskins pulled out an improbable 22-19 win.

Vanderjagt's attempt was low, and his latest failure likely snuffed whatever trust Cowboys coach Bill Parcells still had in him. Vanderjagt has missed kicks from 26, 48 and now 35 yards this season. Had he not been an expensive free-agent signing, he'd probably already be gone.

Steelers lose identity

The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to attack the Denver Broncos the same way the Colts did a week ago. Spread the field and chuck the ball. Bad mistake.

The Steelers don't have the Colts' quarterback or the Colts' receivers or, for that matter, the Colts' offensive line. What they wound up with was an unsightly 31-20 home loss and six more turnovers.

Ben Roethlisberger threw 54 passes, and three were intercepted. The Steelers abandoned their running game again, rushing 19 times for 96 yards.

Less than a year after winning the Super Bowl, the 2-6 Steelers not only have lost their way, they've lost their identity.

Garrard seizes chance

If it was Jack Del Rio's intention to create an opening for David Garrard to take Byron Leftwich's quarterback job with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the door is now wide-open.

If it wasn't, the Jaguars' coach has a budding quarterback controversy after Garrard threw for three touchdowns and 177 yards in a 37-7 romp over the Tennessee Titans.

Granted, Garrard carved up a Tennessee defense that was missing cornerback Adam Jones, suspended by the Titans for another off-field incident. But Garrard also beat the Philadelphia Eagles a week ago in a wind tunnel, and he gives the Jaguars something Leftwich can't - mobility in the pocket. In the age of the ever-present blitz, that can't be understated.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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