Why the Colts? Peyton Manning
By MICHAEL MAROT
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Two words are enough to explain why the Indianapolis Colts will win their second Super Bowl in four years.
While you're playing checkers, he's playing chess — and he's always two moves ahead.
He forced Bill Belichick into a risky gamble on fourth-and-2, then finished off the game-winning drive and left the Patriots coach answering questions for months. He convinced Jets coach Rex Ryan to try a 52-yard field goal, then turned around and used the field position to produce the go-ahead score in the AFC title game. He spotted the Miami Dolphins a 3-to-1 advantage in time of possession and still brought back the Colts. It was one of a league record seven fourth-quarter comebacks.
"It's really disheartening," Miami coach Tony Sparano said at the time. "I'd like to ask you guys how many times you've seen games like that."
All the time, coach.
With seven days to study film of an opponent, Manning has no problems finding creases in a defense. With two weeks to break down the Saints, the best student to ever play the game will take advantage of every crack.
New Orleans defensive coordinator Greg Williams has been doing plenty of studying, too. Manning's been his favorite subject.
"We've researched every game all the way back into games I coached against him in Buffalo, games I coached against him at Tennessee," Williams said. "I go back and look at all those games. You know why I do that? He's such a pro that I know he is, too."
Late last week, Williams also promised to send defenders to deliver a message — "remember-me" shots is what he called them.
But it's Manning who will leave the lasting impression.
It's one thing to give up nearly 500 yards to Brett Favre and the Vikings in the NFC championship. It's another to allow Washington's Jason Campbell to throw for a career-high 367 yards. Manning has 56 career 300-yard games and seven 400-yard games.
Even more important, perhaps, Manning rarely makes mistakes.
The Saints feast on turnovers, and he's notoriously slim pickings. He almost never gets sacked and rarely turns the ball over. Against those same Jets, he got sacked twice on the Colts' first two possessions, and didn't go down again.
There's a reason for that: Manning had already watched film of every one of the Jets' regular-season games.
Then he went back and studied how Ryan attacked the Colts in a 2006 game when he was defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens. He didn't stop there, either, heading into the locker room at halftime and replayed the first half.
When someone mentioned that to Jets Pro Bowl defensive end Shaun Ellis, a teammate of Manning's at Tennessee, he didn't even pretend to be surprised.
"Same player, same guy," Ellis said, shaking his head. "He was always a film guy."
That's not all he is.
Manning is the best in the NFL on third-down conversions. He's scored on 23 straight red-zone possessions. Nobody runs a 2-minute drill better.
Want to blitz him?
Bring it on.
Against two teams that blitz routinely, the Ravens and Jets, Manning completed 67.5 percent of his passes and threw five TD passes.
"With Peyton Manning, if you can't disrupt his rhythm, he's going to kill you," Ryan said after the game. "And, we couldn't disrupt him enough."
The Saints won't, either.