No other quarterback has dominated the Ravens' prideful defense this decade like the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player. With his rapid-fire arm, he has outplayed them. With his ability to pick apart defenses, he has outsmarted them.
Today at M&T; Bank Stadium, the Ravens (5-4) are looking to knock off the undefeated
Colts (9-0) and end Manning's sixgame winning streak against them with a new philosophy and new faces.
This marks the third defensive coordinator (Greg Mattison) and fifth starting cornerback combination (Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington) for the Ravens as they try to defeat Manning for the first time since 2001.
"The thing you have to do with him is make sure you understand he's going to complete some balls," Mattison said. "Just go out there with the mind-set that your whole deal is to keep them out of the end zone, whatever way you have to do it. It doesn't matter if something negative happens. The next play has got to be a positive play. When that ballgame is over, if you've added up as many as you should, you're going to be successful."
Manning, 33, has beaten the Ravens in close games. In 2002, a fourth-down passinterference penalty on Gary Baxter led to a game-winning field goal with four seconds left in a 22-20 win.
He has beaten the Ravens when he wasn't at his best. In the 2006 playoffs, Manning was held to 170 passing yards, but five field goals were enough to lift the Colts to a 15-6 victory.
He has beaten the Ravens when they were banged up. Near the end of the 2007 season, Manning threw four touchdowns against a patchwork secondary ( Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin started at cornerback) in a 44-20 rout.
And he has beaten the Ravens when they were at the top of their game. Last season, Manning humbled the NFL's top-ranked pass defense by passing for three touchdowns in a 31-3 win.
During the past two meetings, Manning has thrown seven touchdown passes on 32 completions.
"I don't really get into what happened in games past," Manning said. "2009 is a totally different season. This game will have its own identity."
Manning's reign over the Ravens has been staggering. It hasn't mattered whether the defense dropped eight players in coverage as the Ravens did under coordinator Mike Nolan or blitzed the same number as they did under Rex Ryan.
From 2002 to 2008 (including playoffs), Manning completed 64.1 percent of his passes against the Ravens, averaging 246 passing yards per game and recording a 102.1 quarterback rating. During that period, the Ravens held the rest of the league to a 56.4 percent completion rate, limiting quarterbacks to 202 passing yards per game and a 68.7 rating.
"Peyton's like an offensive coordinator with a strong arm," Foxworth said. When Manning was at the Pro Bowl earlier this year, he got to know Ravens coach John Harbaugh. On bus rides from the hotel to the practice fields, Harbaugh's daughter Alison, a second-grader, would sometimes sit on Manning's lap.
John Harbaugh and Manning got friendly ... but not too friendly. "He's very tight with information," Harbaugh said. "We thought we were going out there and learn a little about his offense, and we learned nothing. Then he was pumping us for information, and we gave him nothing."
Because Manning calls audibles so much at the line of scrimmage, Harbaugh has called on fans to be loud. He also joked that the crowd might be able to help with the wind, which is only supposed to be 9 mph Sunday.
"What if [the fans] blow right before the snap?" Harbaugh said with a smile. There's little bluster when it comes to Manning, who is in the midst of one of his best seasons. With two of his top three wide receivers gone ( Marvin Harrison was not re-signed; Anthony Gonzalez is injured), Manning could break a couple of NFL records with the likes of rookie Austin Collie and second-year receiver Pierre Garcon.
Through nine games, Manning is on pace to surpass Dan Marino's mark for most passing yards in a season (5,084 in 1984). His 69.7 percent completion rate puts him within striking distance of Ken Anderson's league record of 70.55 percent in 1982.
The Ravens' cornerbacks, though, are playing at perhaps their highest level of the season. The secondary has given up only one passing touchdown in the past three games and none in the past seven quarters.
"We're prepared to take the challenge against anybody," Washington said. "We just got a ?don't care' attitude. Go out and just play. If you mess up, you mess up." When it has come to playing the top quarterbacks this season, there have been more mistakes than correct decisions. The Ravens have struggled against all four former Pro Bowl quarterbacks they have faced: Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Brett Favre.
Still, those quarterbacks are not in Manning's class this season.
"Some people say he's playing better than any quarterback that's ever played in the history of the game," Harbaugh said. "I don't know. But he's our challenge this week, and we're looking forward to it."