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Broncos defenseless vs. Manning

The Baltimore Sun

DENVER -- Maddeningly meticulous and impeccably precise, this was Peyton Manning at his cruel best.

Skewering a Denver defense that was designed specifically to stop him, Manning led the Indianapolis Colts over, around and through the Broncos yesterday, throwing for 345 yards and three touchdowns to Reggie Wayne for a message-sending 34-31 victory.

"When you play a guy like Peyton Manning, and the guy's going to put it on there on the money, what can you do?" Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said.

Not much, as the Broncos (5-2) found out repeatedly, watching Manning lead the Colts to scores on seven of their final eight drives - the only miss coming when he kneeled on the ball to end the first half.

Manning's final drive set up the winning points on a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with two seconds left. It made the Colts the first team to go 7-0 in consecutive seasons since the 1929-31 Green Bay Packers did it three straight times.

Manning made a mockery of Denver's cushy zone defense. Wayne dissected it best, catching 10 passes for 138 yards, most of them in front of Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams.

It was Williams who Denver picked first in the 2005 draft, a defense-heavy class that was part of an ongoing effort by the Broncos to shore things up after 41-10 and 49-24 playoff losses at Indy in 2003 and '04.

But the Broncos aren't the only team that uses the offseason to get better. Manning's work ethic is impeccable, and in a 2006 full of stops and starts, he was practically perfect against the team many thought would be Indy's biggest challenger.

"When you're throwing against Bailey and Williams, that's why you work in April, May and June," Manning said. "That's why you throw a lot in the offseason, with nobody covering. You pretend it's Champ Bailey covering. You have to throw a perfect throw and run a perfect route."

The Colts gained 437 yards and fell 10 points short of matching what the Denver defense had allowed all season. The Broncos were being compared to the best of all time.

Instead, those comparisons seemed more apt for Manning, who went 32-for-39 for 345 yards with a passer rating of 129.2. He wasn't intercepted, wasn't sacked and probably won't even need to send that white Colts uniform to the laundry room.

"He amazes me," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Just his leadership qualities, and his sense of urgency, the way he reads defenses. He did a heck of a job today."

Jake Plummer went 13-for-21 for 174 yards and a passer rating of 104.1. Rookie running back Mike Bell came off the bench for 136 yards and two touchdowns, both career highs.

Vinatieri, brought to Indy to make kicks exactly like this, nailed his 19th game-winner in the final minute of regulation or in overtime to cap a 4-for-4 day.

Indianapolis 3 3 14 14-34

Denver 0 14 7 10-31

First quarter Ind-FG Vinatieri 42, 1:45.

Second quarter Den-Plummer 1 run (Elam kick), 11:16. Ind-FG Vinatieri 30, 5:10. Den-Walker 15 pass from Plummer (Elam kick), :22.

Third quarter Ind-Wayne 12 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 12:04. Ind-Wayne 5 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 8:54. Den-M.Bell 1 run (Elam kick), :00.

Fourth quarter Ind-FG Vinatieri 48, 11:37. Den-M.Bell 1 run (Elam kick), 6:54. Ind-Wayne 19 pass from Manning (Wayne pass from Manning), 3:35. Den-FG Elam 49, 1:49. Ind-FG Vinatieri 37, :02. A-76,767.

Ind Den

First downs 23 24

Total Net Yards 437 396

Rushes-yards 21-92 36-227

Passing 345 169

Punt Returns 1-19 0-0

Kickoff Returns 2-49 3-64

Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0

Comp-Att-Int 32-39-0 13-21-0

Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 1-5

Punts 1-33.0 2-50.0

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1

Penalties-Yards 5-55 3-24

Time of Possession 28:57 31:03 Rushing-Indianapolis, Addai 17-93, Rhodes 3-0, Manning 1-(minus 1). Denver, M. Bell 15-136, Sapp 2-39, T. Bell 13-27, Plummer 5-22, Scheffler 1-3. Passing-Indianapolis, Manning 32-39-0-345. Denver, Plummer 13-21-0-174. Receiving-Indianapolis, Wayne 10-138, Clark 6-68, Harrison 5-38, Addai 5-37, Rhodes 3-43, Utecht 2-12, Fletcher 1-9. Denver, Scheffler 4-51, Walker 4-40, Smith 2-28, Kircus 1-45, M. Bell 1-7, Sapp 1-3.

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