Manning sets sights on what matters

INDIANAPOLIS -- The night couldn't have been better for the Colts -- or so they thought.

The mayor of Indianapolis announced before the game the plans for a new retractable roof stadium in the parking lot of the RCA Dome that could be operational by 2008.

Colts linebacker Cato June ran down the sidelines with what appeared to be a game-sealing 75-yard touchdown against the Ravens but accidentally set up a last-second chance for Peyton Manning to throw an NFL record-tying 48th touchdown. Instead, Manning took a knee twice, ending a 20-10 victory.

Fans booed. What were they thinking? The Colts won their 11th game in 14 starts and yet the fans seemed more interested in a stat. How crazy?

"It's just one of those things that if it happens during the normal game, a normal down and distances, normal score then I'm all for it," Manning said. "I appreciate all the fans being excited about it.

"You see all the meters and those kinds of things. I think that's great for the fans. I don't know what this is comparable to. If you talk about baseball when Mark McGwire did it, I don't think the Cardinals were in a pennant race that year. That probably makes it a little bit easier."

Manning isn't like Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth. He's not Barry Bonds chasing Hank Aaron. Manning chasing Dan Marino is big theater in the NFL. Except for one person and one team. The Colts and Manning are concentrating on seeding in the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

And that's what is making his pursuit of 48 touchdown passes so special. Manning isn't going to accept a cheap record. Twice during Sunday night's victory over the Ravens he stared the record in the face and called an audible.

The first time was in the third quarter. The Colts led 13-3 and the Ravens were on their heals. A series earlier, Manning hit Marvin Harrison after Ravens pass coverage broke down and came up with a 29-yard touchdown pass. On the Ravens' next possession, Colts defensive tackle Larry Tripplett blocked a Matt Stover field goal, and Von Hutchins carried it to the Ravens 31.

Five plays later, Manning was at the Ravens 3 with a second down. He got to the line and noticed the Ravens were moving into pass coverage. Record or no record, Manning wasn't going to change. He called an Edgerrin James run up the middle for a 3-yard score and a 20-3 lead.

Colts players celebrated. Fans wondered more about the record. The only record Manning cares about is wins and losses. The way he's going he'll break just about every statistical record in sight during his career. Marino did, but there was one stat missing in Marino's trophy case. He never won a Super Bowl.

Manning wants that stat on his team's record.

"We're right in the middle of a competitive AFC race trying to bump up our seeding," Manning said. "I'd love to get a No. 3 seed. I'd love to get a number one or a two. I just can't tell you how much I have to think about every play. Just trying to get the ball snapped and trying to check to the right play sometimes trying to throw a touchdown pass to break a 20-year-old record isn't really on my mind when I'm up there trying to figure out where Ed Reed is and where Ray Lewis is and moving all over the place."

It particularly baffled him that home fans would boo when he took a knee twice to end the game and secure a victory.

"I hope those were Baltimore fans," Manning said with a puzzled look on his face. "I can't get over the crowd booing like that.

Manning had a lot on his mind because the Ravens tried to overload it with things that could worry him during the playoffs. Technically, the Ravens are one of four teams -- the Ravens, Jaguars, Bills and Broncos -- auditioning to play them during the first round of the playoffs. Knowing that the wild-card bids probably start at 10 wins, the Ravens threw the playbook at Manning.

First, the Ravens opened in a 3-4, and Manning drove 65 yards in eight quick plays and set up a game-opening Mike Vanderjagt field goal and a 3-0 lead. Then the games began.

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Reed came out in a complex nickel defense to confuse the Colts offense.

The strategy worked. The Colts scored only six points in the first half and Manning was 10-for-19 for 133 yards. Defensive backs were everywhere. Looks were different on virtually every play. After each series, Manning would come to the sidelines, look at the pictures and feel as though he were trying to figure out the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Safeties lined up in defensive tackle slots. Cornerbacks moved into linebacker roles. Blitzes were many and varied.

"You have to give credit to them," Colts coach Tony Dungy said of the Ravens defense. "They had a great plan. They played a lot of five and six defensive backs. They brought different blitzers and mixed up who is coming and made us throw quick. We had a couple of chances to hurt them on some things, but couldn't get the balls off and they've got good players."

It was a chess match, and Manning knows those are the type of mental games he's going to get during the playoffs. It caught him off guard early. The Colts went into a two tight end set. The Ravens stayed with six defensive backs. When Manning sees fewer big bodies in the middle of the field to stop the run, he hands off to James.

But the Ravens were quick enough to rally to the ball and hold James, who gained only 69 yards on 22 carries, in check. An offense that entered the game with 55 offensive touchdowns in 140 drives didn't get a touchdown until the eighth possession.

"They had multiple zone blitzes," Manning said. "They were protecting the corners on the outside. We got down the sideline a couple times against man-to-man and we made a couple good plays to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison on a couple of underthrows. It's always a chess match against these guys. So it feels good to get a win, I'll tell you that. But I can't tell you how many different patches they have."

And Manning knows future opponents will study the tape and see what worked. The Colts usually score 34.5 and have a goal set to score 28. They scored 20. Manning was 20 of 33 for 249 yards. Not one Colts receiver had a 100-yard game. The Colts looked human.

Manning stayed patient and waited for James to get the run game going. James responded with some good runs to open up the Ravens defense. Finally, Manning caught the secondary in a "zero" zone blitz play in which Reed bit on the run play and there was no deep safety. Cornerback Chris McAlister let Harrison slip to the inside on a third-and-1 and hit him for a 21-yard touchdown on the post.

"The Ravens did so many crazy things," Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "They were blitzing from so many different areas. They were showing you one thing and doing another thing. I'd have to watch film to tell you exactly what they were doing."

Manning has to figure it out during the game. He has 47 touchdown passes, one shy of Marino. He has his sixth 4,000-yard season with 4,168 yards. His offense has scored 474 points. His quarterback rating for the season is 123.9. He's completed 68.3 percent of his passes.

But he's worried more about the next play and what teams might copy off what the Ravens did to hold him until he caught up with them in the second half.

"This is a copy cat league," Manning said.

One thing that is unique is this record. Manning won't sacrifice the chance to win a game to hold a record. The Colts play the Chargers next week, a team with an identical 11-3 record. Manning wants the win, not the record.

Which is why when he gets the record it will mean ever more.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.