Manning finally wins big one, leads Colts to Super Bowl


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The demons can relocate to some other team's
locker room. Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy are Super Bowl material

Manning led the Colts from 18 points down in the second quarter,
and on a game-winning 80-yard drive late in the fourth, for a
wildly entertaining 38-34 victory Sunday over the
New England Patriots in the AFC title game.

He took Dungy along for the ride, helping his coach finally get
to the big game and make some history along the way. In two weeks,
Dungy will join Chicago's Lovie Smith in the Super Bowl, where
together they will be the first black head coaches to meet in the
NFL's biggest game.

"It means a lot," Dungy said. "I'm very proud to be
representing African-Americans. I'm very proud of Lovie."

Manning wouldn't concede that he got a monkey off his back with the win, the biggest in his nine-year NFL career.

"I don't get into monkeys and vindication," he said. "I don't
play that card. I know how hard I worked this season, I know how
hard I worked this week."

The Colts are the early favorites to beat the NFC champion Bears
in the Super Bowl, by a touchdown.

Sunday's game was a show for the ages, and Manning was the star.
He threw for 349 yards and one touchdown and brought his team back
from a 21-3 deficit, the biggest comeback in conference title-game

The Patriots (14-5) lost in the championship game for the first
time in six tries and saw their hopes of winning four Super Bowls
in six years -- a la the Steelers of the late 70s -- derailed by
Manning and Co.

Joseph Addai capped Manning's late drive with the winning score,
a 3-yard run with 1 minute left to help the Colts (15-4) complete
the rally and give them their first lead in the game.

After the final score, Manning was on the sideline, his head
down, unable to watch. Brady threw an interception to Marlin
Jackson and the RCA Dome crowd went wild. One kneel down later and
Manning ripped off his helmet to celebrate.

"I said a little prayer on that last drive," Manning said. "I
don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I
said a little prayer."

Not only was it a win for Manning, the All-Pro, All-Everything
son of Archie, it was a riveting, back-and-forth showcase of two of
the NFL's best teams, best quarterbacks, and yet another example of
why football is America's favorite sport.

It was anything but a by-the-book game, and that started
becoming obvious when New England left guard Logan Mankins opened
the scoring by pouncing on a fumbled handoff between Brady and
Laurence Maroney that squirted into the Indy end zone midway
through the first quarter.

It got worse from there for Manning, who telegraphed a throw to
the sideline that Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel snatched and
took 39 yards into the end zone for a 21-3 lead.

Then, the game plan changed because it had to, and the game
morphed from another Manning meltdown into something much more.

He led the Colts on an 80-yard drive late in the first half for
a field goal to make it 21-6. In the third quarter, he was at his
cruel best, dissecting an exhausted Patriots defense for a pair of
long drives and scores.

The first came on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The second was
capped by a 1-yard pass to Dan Klecko, a defensive tackle who came
in as a supposed decoy at the goal line. A circus catch by Marvin
Harrison for the 2-point conversion tied the game at 21.

"I'm so proud of the way our guys fought," Dungy said. "I'm
very happy for Peyton. He was very, very calm. He had to bring us
from behind three or four times. It's just fitting. Our team went
the hard way the whole year."

After Indy's tying score, the Patriots answered with an 80-yard
kickoff return by Ellis Hobbs, which set up a 6-yard touchdown pass
from Brady to Jabar Gaffney. Officials awarded the score to Gaffney
after ruling he was forced out of the back of the end zone by an
Indy defender.

Manning came right back but his handoff to Dominic Rhodes
misfired. The ball scooted forward and center Jeff Saturday got
this touchdown to tie the score at 28.

After that drive, Manning could be seen on the sideline, nursing
a sore thumb. But he wasn't coming out.

"I was a little worried at first, but I went over, made a few
warmup throws and it was fine," he said. "I guess adrenaline
pulled me through there a little, too."

The teams traded field goals, and Patriots kicker Stephen
Gostkowski put New England ahead 34-31 on a 43-yarder with 3:49

After a touchback, it was time for Manning's drive: 11 yards to
Reggie Wayne, 32 yards to Bryan Fletcher, a scary completion to
Wayne, who nearly lost the ball but snatched it back.

A roughing-the-passer call gave Indy the ball at the 11, then
Manning handed off three straight times to Addai for the last 11

This 80-yard march came 20 years after John Elway made his first
Super Bowl with The Drive.

"I watched the drive with Elway, you never get tired of seeing
that," Manning said. "I'm not comparing what we just did to that,
but it sounds pretty good."

It was Manning at his best.

He was 0-2 in the playoffs against New England, and saw another
great chance for the Super Bowl disappear last year in a home loss
to Pittsburgh. The storyline all week was what a break the Colts
got in getting the Patriots at home, and what a sensational feeling
it would be to finally knock off the team that bedeviled them most.

That story had a happy ending for the Colts, as Patriots coach
Bill Belichick found himself uncharacteristically unable to shut
down Manning and Co.

"We played the defenses we thought were best for our football
team," Belichick said. "That's all we did."

The Colts piled on 455 yards and scored on six of their final
eight drives, not counting the one where Manning kneeled down. The
mystique that seemed so prevalent last week in an upset win over
San Diego seemed missing, and this looked like a tired, desperate,
defeated team in the end. Maybe it was due in part to a flu bug
that worked its way through its locker room during the week.

So while that dynasty is dead, it is now Manning's turn to take
a shot at starting a new one.

"Some of that stuff is a little deep for me," Manning said.
"I just wanted to do my job and do my job well. I didn't think I
needed to be super. I just needed to be good."

On this defining day, it turns out he was both.


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