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Manning's impromptu calls guide Colts to AFC Championship

Jan. 20, 2010

Associated Press
Peyton Manning barks audibles at the line during the Colts 20-3 victory against the Baltimore Ravens Jan. 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Manning collected his NFL-record fourth MVP two weeks ago.

By Reggie Hayes
McClatchy News

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning gets more than his share of credit for being an offensive mastermind, surveying defenses and checking into foolproof plays.

But he's not above soliciting ideas.

Manning's touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne seconds before halftime in the Colts' 20-3 playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday was, at least partly, impromptu.

"We were breaking the huddle and me and Reggie and Dallas (Clark) were like, 'What do you think? What do you want to run?'" Manning said.

"It was a little bit of recess playground, if you will. Finally, the thought hit (Wayne) and I at the last minute and we got him on the right route. He made a great catch and did a great job of getting it in the end zone."

Great story. Wayne's catch and stretch for the score pushed the Colts to a 17-3 lead and cushion the Ravens couldn't overcome.

It's natural to wonder, however, if Manning wasn't exaggerating a bit for the drama of the recollection.

"I wouldn't say he's exaggerating," Wayne said. "He was asking for opinions. Everybody had a different opinion. That's kind of how it is. When we get those opportunities, he wants guys to come up with suggestions. He'll pick all of the above, or A, B and C."

Manning and his teammates will surely need some special plans, predetermined and spontaneous, when they play the New York Jets at 2 p.m. on Sunday for the AFC Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It's a rematch of a Dec. 27 game in which the Jets won, 29-15, after Colts head coach Jim Caldwell removed Manning and other starters late in the third quarter, sacrificing a chance at an undefeated season.

Up to that point against the Jets, the Colts' passing game had been humming along. Manning completed 14 of 21 passes for 192 yards and had hit seven receivers for at least one pass--led by Austin Collie's six catches for 94 yards.

Manning's confidence in his passing game might be at an all-time high, considering the depth and diversity of his options. In the playoff win over the Ravens, he hit seven receivers.

Six of them had more than one catch. Manning spread the ball around almost evenly. The NFL keeps statistics on "targets," which is the number of times a receiver is thrown the ball.

Against Baltimore, 11 passes were thrown to Wayne, 10 to Pierre Garcon, nine to Clark and eight to Collie.

That shows the breadth of Manning's trust in the younger receivers Garcon and Collie.

The Colts' first touchdown Sunday came on a fade route to Collie in the left corner of the end zone. Collie credited Wayne's presence with allowing him the chance to make the big play.

"Reggie draws a lot of attention because of who he is," Collie said. "He's unbelievable. Naturally, they respect him a little more than they do me­--a lot more is what I should say.

"Having both Reggie and Dallas opens up everything for us. Those two are wonderful at what they do. They're some of the best in the NFL. Definitely, Pierre and I have been the beneficiaries of that."

The confidence in the passing game was never more evident than when the Colts went for the touchdown pass to Wayne with seven seconds left in the half. The Colts were out of timeouts, so a sack would have ended the half without any points. Kicking a field goal was the conservative call.

Caldwell chose not to go conservative, no doubt influenced by the fact he has one of the NFL's all-time best directing his offense.

Manning said he knew they had to go to the end zone, but also knew an incompletion wouldn't take seven seconds, so a field goal was still an option if they failed.

Failure wasn't a seriously considered option, however.

"In the normal world, we probably would have kicked the field goal," Wayne said. "But when we got there, it was like we were playing Madden, having fun and doing what we can do. With the guys out there we have, anything can happen.

"We have the best quarterback in the league and great skill guys. Whoever gets the ball, we know they can make the play."

Wayne suggested Manning throw him the ball. Not a surprise, perhaps. But a good call, no question.