INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be an off-the-charts shootout between teams with contrasting styles of offensive wizardry led by two players, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who are among the best at their positions in the NFL.
When Manning threw three interceptions for the first time in four seasons, and Johnson was held to a season-low 32 yards, it was left to others to assume starring roles in yesterday's AFC wild-card playoff game at the raucous RCA Dome.
Rookie running back Joseph Addai did, and so did the much-maligned Colts defense.
Making his first NFL playoff start, Addai rushed 25 times for 122 yards and a touchdown while the defense, ranked last against the run, swarmed Johnson and intercepted Trent Green twice to lead the Colts to a 23-8 victory.
The win sets up an AFC divisional round matchup between the Colts and Ravens Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at M&T; Bank Stadium.
"I thought our defense came out and played with a lot of energy," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Our guys just rose to the challenge. I think we just played better, we played faster. That's the way we had hoped to play all year; we picked a good time to play that way."
The Chiefs didn't get a first down until a little more than 3 1/2 minutes remained in the third quarter, yet had a chance to get back in the game when Green helped cut his team's 16-0 deficit in half with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez and a pass to Kris Wilson for a two-point conversion.
But Manning, whose mistakes had contributed to the Colts holding only a 9-0 lead at halftime - Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals of 48, 19 and 50 yards - led Indianapolis on a 71-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Manning finished 30 of 38 for 268 yards, but according to the perennial All-Pro, his completion percentage was even higher.
"I was 33 of 38," Manning said. "Thirty to us and three to them."
Two of the interceptions came when Manning and his longtime favorite receiver, Marvin Harrison, failed to communicate on the routes. Both times, Chiefs cornerback Ty Law stepped in, once returning it 43 yards to the Colts' 9.
On that occasion, as for much of the game, Kansas City failed to capitalize. After Johnson rushed 6 yards to the 3 - it was his longest run of the game - Green was tripped by his left guard, Brian Waters, and a 23-yard field-goal try by Lawrence Tynes bounced off the left upright.
Asked about the interceptions, Manning said: "Three poor throws on my part, obviously. The defense did a good job on all three of them keeping them from getting any points. We were able to overcome. It was a good team win, our defense picking up the slack from the offense a few times today."
The Chiefs prevented Manning from beating them deep to Harrison, who caught only two passes for 48 yards, or Wayne, who caught five passes for 36 yards, but couldn't stop him from going to tight end Dallas Clark, who finished with nine catches for 103 yards, mostly on crossing routes.
Manning's most effective weapon was Addai. The 5-foot-11, 223-pound rookie from LSU, who along with Dominic Rhodes, has helped the Colts overcome the departure of Edgerrin James this season. Rhodes added 68 yards on 13 carries.
"It was important for us to run the ball today and we did a great job of it," Manning said. "All season, our backs have done a tremendous job of catching those short passes and turning them into big plays."
Yet the most surprising aspect of the victory for the Colts was the play of their defense. After giving up more than 100 rushing yards in all 16 regular-season games and getting pummeled by the Houston Texans' Ron Dayne for 153 yards two weeks ago, Johnson was expected to run wild in the wild-card game.
It never happened, starting with his first carry, when the NFL's second-leading rusher was gang-tackled for no gain.
"They came out ready to stop the run," Johnson said. "You have to have a backup plan for that. They had a backup plan for stopping the run. We didn't have anything to come back with. Those guys played harder than they did the last couple of weeks."
Safety Bob Sanders returned after missing most of the season with a knee injury and provided an emotional lift.
"Our defense is built to be fast, with a lot of emotion, playing smart, playing physical," said Sanders, who had a fourth-quarter interception and helped hold Green to 107 yards. "During the regular season, we didn't do it as much as we should have. But it's a new year, and we're ready. We've just got to keep moving forward."
Kansas City 0 0 8 0- 8
Indianapolis 6 3 7 7-23
First quarter Ind-FG Vinatieri 48, 8:41. Ind-FG Vinatieri 19, 2:09.
Second quarter Ind-FG Vinatieri 50, :00.
Third quarter Ind-Addai 6 run (Vinatieri kick), 4:14. KC-Gonzalez 6 pass from Green (Green pass to Wilson), :08.
Fourth quarter Ind-Wayne 5 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 10:16. A-57,215.
First downs 7 28
Total Net Yards 126 435
Rushes-yards 17-44 40-188
Passing 82 247
Punt Returns 1-8 3-28
Kickoff Returns 3-58 2-51
Interceptions Ret. 3-55 2-33
Comp-Att-Int 14-24-2 31-39-3
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-25 1-5
Punts 6-52.3 2-38.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 2-13 3-40
Time of Possession 20:37 39:23 Rushing-Kansas City, L.Johnson 13-32, Hall 2-14, Bennett 1-1, Green 1-(minus 3). Indianapolis, Addai 25-122, Rhodes 13-68, Manning 2-(minus 2). Passing-Kansas City, Green 14-24-2-107. Indianapolis, Manning 30-38-3-268, Smith 1-1-0-(minus 16). Receiving-Kansas City, L.Johnson 5-29, Gonzalez 4-25, Wilson 2-29, Hall 2-12, Bennett 1-12. Indianapolis, Clark 9-103, Addai 7-26, Wayne 5-36, Harrison 2-48, Rhodes 2-24, Moorehead 2-18, Utecht 2-17, Fletcher 1-(minus 4), Boiman 1-(minus 16). Missed field goal-Kansas City, Tynes 23 (WL).