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Manning Pulls One Out on Bad Day

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Column: Manning Pulls One Out on Bad Day

By DAVE GOLDBERG, AP Football Writer

Sun Jan 14,

br-29503.jpg Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, right, hands off ...

BALTIMORE. - Once again, Peyton Manning had a so-so playoff game. Less than so-so if you count the two interceptions the Baltimore Ravens should have had but dropped. Who cares? Certainly not Manning. He and the Indianapolis Colts are on the way to the AFC championship game after beating Baltimore 15-6 on Saturday in a game with no touchdowns.

That following a regular season in which their defensive struggles _ an NFL-worst 173 yards per game allowed on the ground _ made them a long shot in the playoffs.

"It's always been `Colts win, Manning wins, Colts lose, Manning loses,'" Manning said. "It should be `Colts win, Colts lose.' We're one entity."

This, emphatically, was "Colts win," which is all Manning cares about.

He gets increasingly testy when he is asked from time to time if only a Super Bowl win will "vindicate" what otherwise has been a career that in nine seasons already has him among the top quarterbacks ever. That vindication, he has said many times, will play itself out however it plays itself out.

For now, it will play itself out next week _ either in Indianapolis against New England or in San Diego against the Chargers, depending on who wins their matchup in California on Sunday. A win in that game and Manning will reach the Super Bowl for the first time.

If it's not pretty and the Colts win, why should Peyton care? He's now thrown five interceptions in two playoff games and Indy has won them both. In other words, "Colts win," primarily because of their defense and _ dare we say it _ despite Manning.

"I knew going in it might be like this. I didn't sleep much this week thinking about their defense," Manning said.

It showed. Most of the day he looked more like his brother Eli on a bad day than a two-time MVP who two seasons ago set a league record for touchdown passes with 49. He underthrew Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison a bunch of times and threw to the outside of a wide-open Aaron Moorehead on a deep pass just before halftime when throwing it inside would have meant a touchdown.

But winning cures a lot of things, including a ho-hum 15-of-30 for 170 yards with two interceptions.

"He played pretty well," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Against that defense, it's hard to put up consistent numbers."

And on this day, luck was on the side of Manning and the Colts.

Luck?

Take the second of his two interceptions.

The Colts, leading 12-6, faced a third-and-17 from their own 12. So Manning just heaved the ball deep downfield. Ed Reed picked it off, but his momentum carried him 7 yards farther back and Baltimore got the ball at its own 39, a net gain of 49 yards for Indianapolis.

Would a punt have gotten that much yardage?

"I don't think so," Manning said. "It turned out to be a pretty good play for us."

And the Colts' defense, which was awful in the regular season, got the ball back when Nick Harper intercepted a pass by an equally ineffective Steve McNair, who shared the MVP award with Manning three seasons ago.

That's the "Colts win" thing again.

"Every time we turned it over, the defense turned it back over for us," Manning said.

He also was effective when he had to be _ as, to be fair, his brother can be at times.

He led the Colts on a 65-yard drive from their own 1 in the second quarter that ended with one of Adam Vinatieri's five field goals. Then he completed a 14-yard third-down pass to Dallas Clark with 3:29 left in regulation, keeping the ball away from the Ravens.

"Stop saying he played badly," said Bill Polian, the Colts' sometimes truculent GM, who chose Manning over the all-time bust Ryan Leaf with the first pick of the 1998 draft. "Did you see that throw to Dallas? Did you see it? He was covered and Peyton got it in there perfectly. How many quarterbacks can do that?"

True enough.

And if Manning throws five more interceptions in the next two games and the Colts win them both, no one will care.

That means Peyton will finally have his Vince Lombardi Trophy.

And, presumably, be "vindicated."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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