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.

First for Everything

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning joined an exclusive club on Sunday. Here's the list of quarterbacks with the most regular-season passing yards before their first Super Bowl start:

Pass Yds
Johnny Unitas, BAL*197037,715
Peyton Manning, IND200637,586
Fran Tarkenton, MIN197333,248
Rich Gannon, OAK200226,945
Ken Anderson, CIN198125,652
Steve Young, SF*199419,869
* -- played in previous Super Bowl but didn't start.

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.

Elias Says

Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri became the NFL's all-time postseason scoring leader on Sunday, and he did it with a flourish. Vinatieri broke the previous record of 153 points, held by Gary Anderson, when he booted a 36-yard field goal to knot the AFC title game at 31-31 with 5:31 to play in the fourth quarter. He later added an extra point, lifting his total to 155 points in 20 postseason games.

• Read more Elias Says.

"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.