INDIANAPOLIS - Maybe the trick is to tell Peyton Manning the regular season runs into January.
Because the minute he gets anywhere near the NFL playoffs, the quarterback who is quite possibly the best of his generation in the regular season looks more like a scrub.
The Indianapolis Colts are moving on to the second round after a 23-8 victory over Kansas City — little thanks to Manning. He looked indecisive and skittish all afternoon Saturday, making some bad decisions, overthrowing his receivers and dancing around with happier feet than a penguin. The only reason he got away with it was because the Chiefs were even worse.
But now the Colts are headed to Baltimore, and this kind of performance won’t cut it.
Not only will Manning be outside the comfort of his climate-controlled dome, where he’s undefeated this year, but the Ravens have the NFL’s best defense. They’re quick, tough and nasty, and their depth seems endless. Don’t think Chris McAlister, Trevor Pryce and Adalius Thomas weren’t drooling as they watched Manning bumble.
“Everybody wants to get that bye and be fresh and rested. Hopefully we can use this as a little momentum and be in a groove,” Manning said. “We’ve certainly got a tremendous challenge.”
There’s no question Manning is a great quarterback. He’s a two-time NFL MVP who has led his team to a league-best 89 victories in the regular season during the last eight years. He’s also given the Colts a cachet they haven’t had since Johnny Unitas was sporting those black high tops. His gaudy numbers put him in exclusive company with the likes of John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Unitas and Joe Montana.
But while Marino is dogged for never having won the big one, the knock on Manning is even worse: He can’t even get there. As dominant as he is in the regular season, he looks downright ordinary in the playoffs.
He’s now 4-6 in the postseason, with two of those wins coming courtesy of lesser Chiefs teams.
But Manning is the guy who makes the Colts go. And despite numbers that looked respectable, he was stuck in neutral.
He was 30-of-38 for 268 yards and one touchdown. But he was picked off three times, and had none of the poise or creativity that makes him so entertaining to watch in the regular season.
“You have to keep playing,” Manning said. “Every time you drop back to throw, your goal is to possess the ball on the next play. Three times, I was very poor on that. As soon as it gets you second-guessing, as soon as it gets you gun-shy, that’s when you have problems.”
Part of what makes Manning so special is that he sees the game better than almost anyone. No matter what a defense throws at him, he usually finds a way around it. And he did take advantage of Kansas City’s zone, going short over the middle time and again.
But when that wasn’t an option, he seemed to get flustered, a rarity. Take his second interception, which came just before halftime as he looked for Aaron Moorehead in the back of the end zone. Moorehead was covered, but all Manning had to do was lead him a bit and, at worst, it would have been an incompletion.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Manning threw as many passes (two) to Ty Law as he did to Harrison. Not a good thing.
“The way Kansas City’s defense was, there were very few times we’d get a true single coverage outside on Marvin and Reggie. Play-action to get the ball downfield was not there,” Manning said. “But our running backs did such a great job of getting open and catching the ball and what we call ‘going north.’
“Those checkdowns turned into 12-yard gains, and that’s a real positive for the offense.”
Manning finally found something of a groove late in the third quarter. With Kansas City clogging the middle, he swung a pass outside to Dallas Clark for a 10-yard gain. Instead of holding onto the ball too long as he did in the first half, he dumped a short pass off to Addai, who turned it into a 9-yard gain.
Then, in the fourth quarter, he looked like the Manning of the regular season, lofting a pass over Patrick Surtain’s head to Wayne for a 5-yard score.
“Every game takes on a personality of its own,” coach Tony Dungy said. “If you’re going to win a championship, you have to have games where the defense comes on when the offense is a little off-track.”
But the Colts are going to need Manning in Baltimore. The regular-season version, not the playoff one. If not, they’ll all be going home early.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
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