Colts beat Ravens 20-3, advance to AFC title game
AP Football Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — There's a price to pay for keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands.
Once he gets it, he doesn't give it back — at least not until he's gotten the Indianapolis Colts plenty of points and a playoff win.
In his first game since winning an unprecedented fourth NFL MVP award, Manning threw for two touchdowns tonight in a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts will host the AFC championship next Sunday against San Diego or the New York Jets.
Manning and the other Colts starters got lots of rest when rookie coach Jim Caldwell sat them for long portions of the final two regular-season games, both losses after they had opened 14-0. Then they had a bye, a reward for owning the league's best record.
And when the Ravens (10-8), who routed New England in the wild-card round, marched 87 yards for an early field goal, the All-Pro quarterback's sour face told it all.
By halftime, the scoreboard told it all: Indianapolis 17, Baltimore 3.
It didn't get any tighter, even though Ed Reed got his fourth career interception of Manning in the third quarter. Reed was stripped of the ball by a sprinting Pierre Garcon, the intended receiver, at the end of a 38-yard return. Dallas Clark recovered, and Reed was robbed of another pick five plays later because of a pass interference call on Corey Ivy.
The Ravens' vaunted defense was self-destructing, and Manning gave it another push toward the offseason with a 14-play drive to Matt Stover's 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
The last time the Colts hosted the conference title game was three years ago, when they won their only Super Bowl representing Indianapolis. That championship victory came in Miami, the same site as next month's Super Bowl.
Indy's 18th-ranked defense gave Manning lots of help, shutting down a running game that romped for 234 yards against the Patriots. Even when Ray Rice, who had 159 yards rushing a week ago, burst through for a 20-yard gain, Raheem Brock forced a fumble and the Colts recovered. It was Indy's third of four takeaways.
Baltimore, with rookie Joe Flacco at quarterback, won two road games last January to get to the AFC championship game, where it lost to Pittsburgh. Flacco struggled in this postseason and was intercepted twice Saturday night.
The Colts have won eight straight against Baltimore, a city they once called home. The last time they were so stingy in a playoff game was as the Baltimore Colts 39 years ago, a 20-3 win over Cleveland — where the Ravens once lived as the original Browns.