INDIANAPOLIS -- Every team has its biggest nemesis.
Over the years, the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback and four-time league MVP has been the biggest thorn in the side of the Ravens. Manning won for the eighth time in 10 career starts against Baltimore in the Colts' 20-3 playoff victory Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With 246 passing yards and two touchdowns, Manning masterfully controlled the game and knocked the Ravens out of the postseason for a second time in three years.
The Ravens were a No. 2 seed after the 2006 season when Indianapolis rolled into Baltimore and dished out another crushing defeat. The Colts won the Super Bowl that year, and they are a step closer to another trip this year -- courtesy of the Ravens.
"He's as good as it gets in this league and maybe all time," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "No one is going to play a perfect game, and he’s definitely smart enough to pick up when you make mistakes."
Manning wins ugly against Baltimore. Manning wins pretty against Baltimore.
Manning pulls out close wins over the Ravens, such as Indianapolis' 17-15 win in the regular season. And Manning pulls out decisive wins, such as Saturday.
Either way, the Colts are simply an awful matchup for Baltimore.
"Sometimes it's like that," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Some teams give you a tough time. Sometimes you give teams a tough time. They have to get over that hump, and hopefully I'm not here when they do."
Indianapolis' strengths were magnified against Baltimore on Saturday.
The Ravens are built to stop the run and be physical on both sides of the ball, which is what it takes to win in the AFC North division.
The Colts, meanwhile, utilize a spread offense, which kept Baltimore’s thin secondary on the field for most of the game. The Ravens were forced to play cornerbacks Foxworth, Chris Carr and Frank Walker in their basic defense. Carr and Walker were backups for a majority of the season until injuries hit the cornerback position.
Baltimore's secondary has played its best football all season. But the Ravens' best rarely is good enough against Manning, who spread the ball around to seven receivers and completed 30 passes.
Manning threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of the first half to give Indianapolis a 17-3 lead. Baltimore had done a good job of keeping the score close -- it was tied 3-3 late in the second quarter -- until Manning began to heat up and capitalize on the Ravens’ mistakes.
If the Ravens have learned anything, it’s that Manning always seizes the moment against them. He has 19 career touchdowns passes and only eight interceptions against Baltimore.
The old adage that if the Ravens played Manning 10 times, Manning would win eight certainly applies in this case.
"I was here for three of them and he beat us in all three," Ravens second-year coach John Harbaugh said of climbing Mt. Manning. "So obviously he does a great job of finding the receivers. But I thought we did a really good job of making it tough for him for the most part."
Baltimore let two opportunities slip against the Colts in the third quarter.
Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed intercepted a Manning pass and returned it 38 yards before Colts receiver Pierre Garcon poked the ball away from Reed. Indianapolis recovered and turned the play into a field goal. Reed had another interception called back because of a pass interference call on Baltimore cornerback Corey Ivy.
Those were the only two glaring mistakes the Colts made all evening.
Baltimore did a good job of stuffing the run, but Manning’s ability to move the offense through the air was the difference. It also helped Indianapolis' defense, which played with the lead for a majority of the game and forced two interceptions and a fumble.
"The better team won today," Baltimore tailback Ray Rice said. "As a man, you can't be afraid to say that and look in the mirror."
Where would the Ravens be without Manning? This year they would be in the conference title game.
Defense usually wins championships, but that hasn’t been the case in this matchup. Until Manning retires, the Ravens will have to figure out a way to get past the Colts, and arguably the best quarterback of this era, in order to win the franchise's second Super Bowl title.
With the way the Ravens are currently built, their best chance right now is to avoid the Colts as much as possible.