Manning pleases with pocket passes

Perfect Peyton

Posted: Wednesday, October 08, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS Perfect Peyton Manning is living up to his nickname.

His last two games have been almost flawless. His Indianapolis Colts are undefeated, and Manning is playing the best football of his six-year NFL career.

After Manning combined with Marvin Harrison to engineer a stunning 28-point fourth quarter against Tampa Bay on Monday night, coach Tony Dungy said he couldn't imagine a better combination in the league.

''I'm getting numb with our guys,'' Dungy said. ''Marvin and Peyton do some unbelievable things quite often.''

The expectations have been enormous for Manning since the Colts chose him over Ryan Leaf as the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. The cantankerous Leaf, picked second by San Diego, mockingly dubbed Manning ''Perfect Peyton'' because of his golden-boy image as the son of former NFL quarterback Archie.

Leaf turned out to be one of the biggest busts in NFL history and is out of the league. Manning, meanwhile, is making that mocking sobriquet perfectly reasonable.

One week after throwing a franchise-record six touchdowns against New Orleans, Manning produced an encore every bit as good.

He led the Colts to four fourth-quarter touchdowns three in the game's final four minutes as Indianapolis (5-0) rallied against the league's best defense for a 38-35 overtime victory at Tampa Bay. No team in the 84-season history of the NFL had ever made up a 21-point deficit in the final four minutes.

On Tuesday, the Super Bowl champs were still befuddled.

''We had them in a predictable situation a very, very good situation for us,'' coach Jon Gruden said. ''Unfortunately, we had a guy that made the plays when he had to.''

That's becoming the norm for Manning.

In the last four weeks, he's thrown 11 touchdowns, just two interceptions and has put himself back on for a record-setting fifth straight 4,000-yard season.

He was seemingly at his best Sept. 28 in New Orleans, his hometown, when he completed 20 of 25 passes for 314 yards and just missed tying the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game (seven) as the Colts rolled to a 55-21 victory. It was the third game in which he had a perfect passer rating, 158.3.

Just when people thought Manning couldn't outdo himself, he cranked it up late Monday night.

Manning completed 13 of 17 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, then produced his 14th fourth quarter-overtime comeback win by going 5-of-9 for 48 yards in overtime.

It marked the first time in nearly two years that Manning produced back-to-back passer ratings of more than 100.

''I never lost confidence,'' he said after the comeback. ''But I'm not going to lie, it didn't look good.''

Manning leads the NFL with a rating of 103.2 and leads the league in completions (116), completion percentage (68.6) and touchdown passes (11). He's second in yards passing (1,300).

Manning also is on pace for his lowest interception total in three years.

Most important, the Colts are winning. They're one of only four NFL teams still unbeaten after the fifth week.

It hasn't always been this way for Manning, who spent the offseason being peppered with questions about not showing enough emotion, not winning big games or throwing too many interceptions.

Even teammate Mike Vanderjagt took Manning to task, leading the usually ultra-polite quarterback to refer to him as ''our idiot kicker.''

The two say they've patched up their differences.

Monday night's comeback was the best example yet of Manning's improved play.

He threw a perfect 28-yard TD pass to Harrison on fourth down to get the Colts within 35-28 and he found Harrison for 52 yards to set up the tying score.

On the game-winning drive, Manning converted three third downs by throwing to three different receivers. That set up Vanderjagt for a game-winning 29-yard field goal, which banked in off the right goal post.

''He made some miraculous throws, and they made some incredible catches,'' Gruden said.

The only question now is what Manning's next encore will be.

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