Indy needs Manning to seize the moment

OTHER VOICES

January 13, 2007|By Bob Kravitz | Bob Kravitz,The Indianapolis Star

Some of us have picked the Ravens. In fact, a lot of the national media types have picked the Ravens. Let's face it, there are a number of really compelling reasons to believe Baltimore's team will put the Colts in a Mayflower truck late this afternoon and send Indy back home in brown cardboard boxes.

That said, the Colts can win this game. They have a puncher's chance. Actually, they have more than a puncher's chance.

Here's how:

Peyton Manning has to be great. Or at least really, really good, with an emphasis on flawless when it comes to turnovers.

A tick more than 20 years ago, a young Denver Broncos quarterback named John Elway led his team 98 yards through the Cleveland Stadium mud in The Drive, which would become the first chapter in his growing legend.

Now, with the city of Baltimore bathed in a purple glow, the best defense in the game awaiting, and a hometown crowd foaming at the mouth and thinking it can avenge a 23-year-old slight with one afternoon of primal screaming, this is Manning's moment as the Colts take on the Ravens today in an AFC divisional playoff game.

This is his moment, nine years into a Hall of Fame career that has been built on the regular season and not the postseason, to change the perception (and the reality) that he has never been a special quarterback in the playoffs.

Today, he not only has to make the huge plays, but maybe as important, he has to recognize when plays aren't there to be made.

"Peyton has got to be prepared to throw to the hot receiver or throw the ball away," coach Tony Dungy said. "Baltimore does as good a job as anybody getting guys coming free on the quarterback, so you have to recognize where the blitz is coming from."

It's incredible, but true: In this, his ninth season, the jury is still out on Manning. Can he carry a team to the Super Bowl? Can he lift his game to dizzying heights under the most adverse circumstances? Today, we find out.

Even with Manning at his best, the Colts will need to:

Get a huge game from the offensive line. If the line struggles, as it often has done in playoff games, Manning will get those happy feet, and that's an ominous sign.

Make some early big plays on offense. The Ravens will remain loyal to their swarming, blitzing modus operandi. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the son of Buddy Ryan, will have his Pro Bowl-heavy defense bringing the heat. That means there will be opportunities for big plays downfield, something the Colts had in their 2004 and 2005 victories over the Ravens.

Be decent on defense. The Colts don't have to be great. Decent should give the offense a chance to win this game.

After all that, I'm still sticking with the Ravens, envisioning them winning a tough, close game.

Unless the Colts, who have shown they can win in madhouses like Denver and New England, play the best postseason game of the Manning era.

Then all bets are off.

Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star.

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