Harrison Still Special, Still a Game-Breaker, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – One play provided all the evidence needed.
And when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was asked again this week if Harrison – now in his 13th NFL season – is the same this season as seasons past, before an injury cost him 11 games last season . . .
Well, Manning said one play told the story.
And the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback said it provided further evidence of why Harrison long ago established himself as one of the all-time great receivers in NFL history, and why he continues to do so.
This was this past Sunday. Harrison, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, ran deep in the first quarter of a victory over Baltimore. Early in the play, cornerback Chris McAlister peeked into the backfield. Harrison ran outside, between the sideline and McAlister's left shoulder.
Manning threw deep. Harrison caught the pass, and ran the final 30 yards into the end zone untouched for a 67-yard touchdown, his longest reception in nearly two seasons and a play that Manning said this week he hopes will make the questions stop.
Is Harrison the same as before? Is he as fast?
Yes, Manning said. Definitely.
"I think Marv's speed has been there the whole time," Manning said as the Colts (3-2), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Green Bay Packers (3-3) at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"I think he's been pretty good and pretty sharp and he still has that speed. I'm telling you, it's pretty rare to see a guy his age run the way he does. Everybody made a big deal out of McAlister guessing and biting on that fake and I don't think it would have mattered.
"I think he has that kind of speed, which is rare."
A Pro Bowl selection from 1998-2006, Harrison sustained a knee injury in Week 4 last season against the Denver Broncos, playing just one regular-season game thereafter. He also played in the Colts' loss to the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
After catching at least 88 passes for at least 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns every season from 1998 through 2006, he finished last season with 20 receptions for 247 yards and one touchdown.
This season, through four games, he caught 17 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, and was averaging less than 10 yards a reception.
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said throughout the first four weeks of the season that Harrison was playing as well and – and as fast – as before. He reiterated that this week, and said while Harrison's deep reception against Baltimore – and his performance throughout – was impressive, it wasn't substantially different than past performances this season or seasons past.
"I haven't really noticed that much difference," Dungy said. "He's been behind the defense a lot. I think we're a little sharper all the way around. His first play of the (pre-)season, he's five yards behind the guy at Carolina and we get sacked.
"It had been that way and now we got a couple of balls to him. Other than our timing being a little bit better, I don't see a whole, whole lot of difference."
Manning, too, said timing between he and Harrison was the primary reason the pair didn't connect as often early in the season as they had historically.
At times early in the season, Manning said he had Harrison open deep and missed him. Manning this week blamed himself for missed connections in a victory over Houston, and said a similar play occurred this past week against Baltimore.
"That was me," Manning said. "He did exactly what he was supposed to do. I was thinking right and I just didn't quite relay it the right way. That would have been a good opunity.
"He had one-on-one coverage and he ran the route he was supposed to run and I just didn't throw it to the right place."
Manning said the timing problem wasn't just about games Harrison missed last season, but time Harrison missed in mini-camp and summer school this past offseason, as well as Manning missing all of this season's training camp and preseason after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Manning and Harrison have combined for more yards, completions and touchdowns than any receiver-quarterback tandem in NFL history. Yet, entering this season, Manning said they had been on the field together comparatively sparingly since the Colts' victory in Super Bowl XLI.
"The one thing I would say with Marv missing all the time he did last year and then he really didn't do as much in the April and May off-season mini-camps, his first time back was the training camp and that was the time that I missed," Manning said. "It was probably going on almost a solid year that he and I hadn't gotten all the work.
"I really didn't think it affected him as much as it affected me and getting back on the same page with him."
And Manning said anyone who doubts Harrison's speed need only listen to those who have seen him the most for more than a decade, a group that includes the player who has completed more passes to him than any NFL quarterback ever has completed to a receiver.
"I see him every day and besides (Offensive Coordinator) Tom (Moore) and (team president) Bill (Polian) nobody has seen it first-hand these past 11 years," Manning said. "I judge how far I need to throw it and I take two crow hops and throw it as far as I can and see if I can get it out there to him. It's been that way ever since I've been here. It's a credit to him for the kind of shape he stays in, but it's something unique to him.
"He has rare speed and to do it at his age is pretty special."