Dungy: Irsay 'is making this personal'

Tony Dungy believes that Jim Irsay's perceived criticism of Peyton Manning just days before the four-time MVP returns to Indianapolis to play the Colts was probably strategically motivated.

But Dungy, who was hired by Irsay to coach Indianapolis and won a Super Bowl with Manning, struggles to reconcile why the Colts' owner would disparage Manning after touting the team's plan for a pregame tribute to the Denver Broncos quarterback.

"Jim is making this personal," Dungy said in a text message to ESPN. "I'm surprised."

The Colts (4-2) will host the unbeaten Broncos (6-0) on Sunday night in Manning's heavily anticipated return to Lucas Oil Stadium.

In a recent interview with USA Today Sports, Irsay said he was "frustrated" that the Colts won only one Super Bowl despite reaching the playoffs 11 times with Manning.

Irsay also explained the Colts' decision to release Manning and draft Andrew Luck prior to last season, telling USA Today, "We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one [Super Bowl ring]."

Dungy thinks Irsay was deliberately trying to provoke the highly competitive Manning.

"I think that's what he's trying to do," Dungy told ESPN in a text message. "Have him make it such a big game he doesn't perform well. I can't figure any other reason to go this way."

Manning's situation is similar to that of Brett Favre, who had experience winning a Super Bowl with one franchise before returning to play his former team in the stadium where he was worshipped most of his career.

After retiring and then attempting to force his return to the Green Bay Packers to win his release, Favre eventually returned to Lambeau Field with the Minnesota Vikings and can relate to the conflicting emotions Manning might be feeling.

"Not that he needs any advice," Favre told ESPN, "but for me, I had never been more nervous and anxious before a game as I was then. So being able to think clearly, as my emotions were running high, was a monumental feat. But he will do fine."

In a far more hostile environment than Manning should expect for his homecoming, Favre delivered one of the greatest performances of his career in his return to Lambeau Field, throwing four touchdown passes without an interception in Minnesota's 38-26 victory Nov. 1, 2009.

That followed Minnesota's win over Green Bay four weeks earlier at the Metrodome, when Favre threw for three touchdowns in a 30-23 triumph.

The 37-year-old Manning has flourished with Denver and is on a record-setting pace this season. He leads the NFL with 2,179 passing yards and 22 touchdowns -- a league record through six games.

Broncos coach John Fox defended Manning in an interview Tuesday with SiriusXM NFL Radio, calling Irsay's comments "disappointing and inappropriate" and "a cheap shot."

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday that he didn't believe Irsay meant any disrespect to Manning.

"I don't think there's anybody that Mr. Irsay respects and cares for more than Peyton. What can't you say about Peyton, what he's done for the organization, what he's done for this city, or fans? What he's done for football? It's off the charts and it's certainly -- all I know is our owner has the utmost respect, love and passion for that guy and always will," Pagano said on a conference call with Denver-area media Wednesday morning.

Irsay took to Twitter late Tuesday night to address his critics, claiming that they have "negative agendas" and that "the noise doesn't bother me." Irsay tweeted again Wednesday morning in an attempt to explain his comments about Manning.

Dungy also came to Manning's defense, arguing that the quarterback's popularity and success helped prevent the Colts from leaving Indianapolis.

"Without Peyton, there would be no Lucas Oil Stadium," Dungy told ESPN. "This team would be playing in L.A. right now. I don't understand Jim saying this."

The Colts have gone 15-7 since drafting Luck with the top pick in 2012. Irsay, in his interview with USA Today Sports, lamented that the Colts had only one title to show for all their success with Manning -- who is 19-3 in the regular season as Denver's starter but 0-1 in the playoffs.

"[Tom] Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these [rings]," Irsay told USA Today. "Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.

"You make the playoffs 11 times, and you're out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the 'Star Wars' numbers from Peyton and Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne]. Mostly, you love this ring."

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.