All Manning needs now is Super Bowl victory

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2004

Peyton Manning had barely made it to the locker room, and already the talking heads on the network NFL shows were debating his place in history.

Two of them had more than a passing interest in what will almost certainly become the greatest one season passing display ever by an NFL quarterback.

Dan Marino watched as Manning threw six touchdowns in less than three quarters, breaking one of his records in the process. Barring a broken right arm, he's also a lock to erase the record of 48 touchdown passes in a season Marino set in 1984.

''I thought 48 was something no one would touch or get close to,'' Marino said.

Records, of course, are made to be broken. Marino has held his for 20 years, but Manning needs just eight touchdown passes in his next five games to take it away.

Unlike Marino, Terry Bradshaw owns something no one can take away four Super Bowl rings. Marino may be the all-time passing yardage leader with 61,361 yards, but he got to the big game only once in his second season and never won one in 17 years.

Statistics are great to settle bar bets, and they're a good way to fill up record books. But great players are remembered by how much they won, and Marino's legacy will always be tarnished by the fact he never won the big one.

Bradshaw did, so allow him some slack for bragging about it on Thanksgiving Day.

''My passing rating? It was four Super Bowls,'' Bradshaw said.

Manning hopes to someday be able to make a similar claim for himself. He's already won an MVP award and figures to win another one this year unless he and the Indianapolis Colts collapse over the final month of the season.

But right now Manning has more in common with Marino than he has with Bradshaw. He's easily the most talented quarterback in the league not to mention the highest paid but he's in his seventh year and hasn't sniffed a Super Bowl yet.

Before last year, in fact, Manning hadn't even won a playoff game.

Manning knows that as well as anyone. As unflappable as he was on the field Thursday, he became just as flustered afterward when asked about setting an NFL record with at least four TD passes in five straight games and having 41 in 11 games.

He wasn't just mouthing the words so the guys he plays with would be happy. Yes, he got a $34.5 million signing bonus this year, but that and the rest of his $98 million contract wasn't given to him simply to get his name in the record books.

''I feel uncomfortable talking about anything individual,'' Manning said. ''I just want to keep winning.''

His teammates weren't so reserved.

''When he's retired, they'll compare everybody to Peyton Manning, without a doubt,'' said Brandon Stokley, who caught three of Manning's touchdown passes in a 41-9 romp over the Detroit Lions.

''It's awesome what he's doing and it's awesome what our team is doing,'' offensive tackle Tarik Glenn said.

Awesome may not be the word to describe the Colts, though it might be if they could play the Lions every week.

Two touchdown passes within 90 seconds in the second quarter put the game away, and Manning watched the fourth quarter from the bench.

Indianapolis is 8-3 and leading the AFC South, but as good as the offense is, the Colts are almost as shaky on the other side of the ball. The defense has played better the last three games, but still ranks 31st out of 32 teams in yards allowed.

Stokley and others expect Manning to throw at least four touchdowns a game, but the deeper you go into the playoffs the harder that is to do.

''There is going to be a time, or there might be three times, when you have to shut people down,'' coach Tony Dungy said.

Even less encouraging for the Colts making a Super Bowl run for the first time since 1970 when they were in Baltimore and led by a quarterback named Johnny Unitas is that Indianapolis will likely have to go on the road and win in a cold weather place like Pittsburgh or New England.

And, if the Colts don't get it done this year, it figures to get even tougher after that. Both Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison are free agents and, with Manning's huge contract, it's unlikely they can afford to keep both.

For now, though, this season is rapidly nearing an end. Just five regular season games remain, and the Colts can now start peeking ahead to some possible playoff matchups that might get them in a Super Bowl.

''That's the goal. That's what it's always been for me,'' Manning said. ''We've been knocking on the door. Hopefully, we'll have an opportunity to get to the playoffs. That's all we want to do get to the playoffs and maybe try to get hot.''

If they do, Manning just might get the ring that helps define great quarterbacks.

If not, it will be a long offseason no matter how many times his name goes in the record books.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org



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