Patriots and past confront Manning

Colts QB focuses on task, but postseason hex looms

January 21, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

For the first time in their Indianapolis existence, the Colts will be playing the AFC championship game at the RCA Dome.

But where tonight's game against the New England Patriots likely will be won or lost will be inside quarterback Peyton Manning's head.

Whether it's trying to finally solve the Patriots in the playoffs or blocking out his other failed runs at a title, the pressure will be on the two-time Most Valuable Player to show he can produce when the stakes are at their highest.

Manning will either earn his first trip to the Super Bowl or cope with another Super Bust.

"I'm into kind of enjoying the journey and not the destination," Manning said after the Colts' 15-6 divisional playoff win over the Ravens. "I planned on playing for a long time. I've had highs and lows, and we're in the middle of a good opportunity right now. I just want to enjoy the ride and not overanalyze my career."

There are two different chapters in Manning's nine-year career.

The regular season has been filled with records, Pro Bowl invitations and awards. The postseason has been filled with heartache, much of it dealt by Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Manning is 0-2 against New England in the playoffs, struggling to a 51.4 quarterback rating.

Three years ago in the AFC championship game, Manning threw four interceptions in a 24-14 loss in New England. A year later in the divisional playoffs, his offense was held to a field goal in a 20-3 defeat.

"It's important to disrupt the passing game, however you can do it," Belichick said. "It's hard to do, but it's important."

The Patriots' game plan against the Colts has been a mental one against Manning and a physical one for his receivers.

New England either jams Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne at the line or floods the secondary with so many bodies that it's difficult for them to run precise routes. The Patriots fluster Manning by the way they disguise their coverages.

But Manning has reversed his fortune recently against New England. In winning the past two meetings, he has completed 65.8 percent of his throws and has averaged 323.5 yards passing. He has thrown five touchdown passes and two interceptions for a 105.2 rating.

"It doesn't matter what happened this year, last year or some other situation," Belichick said. "What it comes down to is what's going to happen on Sunday. I don't really care what happened in the past - good, bad or indifferent."

History is a major story line in tonight's game, or at least each quarterback's place in it.

Manning is 5-6 in the playoffs, while Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 12-1 in the postseason with three Super Bowl rings.

"I don't know that he'll be judged against Tom Brady," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "But every quarterback will be judged against Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr and guys who have won Super Bowls. That's the way it is.

"I think we have appreciation now for Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason and Dan Fouts and guys who haven't won it. But at the time, we talk about how many Super Bowls you've won. As time goes by, history is a little easier on you."

The criticism on Manning has been heightened this postseason because it has been the Colts' defense - and not their strong-armed quarterback - that has carried the team within striking distance of the franchise's first Super Bowl since 1971 (when the Colts were in Baltimore).

Manning is ranked ninth among the 12 playoff quarterbacks in rating (58.3) and has thrown the most interceptions in this postseason (five).

"I think he's a great quarterback in the regular season and the postseason," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "When he plays well, he gets an amount of credit. And when he doesn't play well, he gets slaughtered. I think he pulls his weight every time we play. I think he's a great quarterback all the time."

But the Patriots know Manning will be thinking about more than their defense.

"He knows that you guys [the media] keep riding him about it," New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "Who wants that legacy as a guy that always gets close but no cigar?"

Note -- The Patriots downgraded safety Rodney Harrison (knee) from doubtful to out for tonight's game. He has been sidelined since the playoffs began.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots (14-4) @ Indianapolis Colts (14-4)

Matchup

Time, TV -- 6:30 p.m., chs. 13, 9.

Line -- Colts by 3.

Vs. spread -- Patriots 10-6-2; Colts 10-8.

Series -- Patriots lead 43-26.

Playoff record -- Patriots 19-11; Colts 15-16.

Last meeting -- Colts won, 27-20, on Nov. 5, 2006, at New England.

Last week -- Patriots beat Chargers, 24-21; Colts beat Ravens, 15-6.

Rankings

Patriots offense -- Overall (11), rush (12), pass (12).

Patriots defense -- Overall (6), rush (5), pass (12).

Colts offense -- Overall (3), rush (18), pass (2).

Colts defense -- Overall (21), rush (32), pass (2).

Patriots injuries

Out -- S Rodney Harrison (knee).

Questionable -- WR Troy Brown (flu); DE Mike Wright (flu); T Ryan O'Callaghan (flu).

Probable -- QB Tom Brady (right shoulder).

Colts injuries

Questionable -- WR Ricky Proehl (hamstring); LB Rob Morris (knee); CB Nicholas Harper (ankle); T Ryan Diem (shoulder); LB Cato June (concussion); S Bob Sanders (knee); G Ryan Lilja (knee).

Breakdown

Key stat -- The Patriots have won four of the six meetings between the teams since 2003, including two playoff games.

Players to watch -- There's nobody like Patriots QB Tom Brady in the playoffs -- he's 12-1, with touchdown passes in 11 straight games. But Colts QB Peyton Manning led the NFL in passer rating, and he beat the Patriots this season.

The buzz -- The story of the postseason has been the Colts' resurgent defense. But can it contain Brady? Not entirely, but probably enough to finally get Manning to the Super Bowl.

From wire reports

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