**Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning: "We Feel Fortunate to be One of the Few Teams Still Playing"
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning said he knows what this week is about.
And simply because the Colts quarterback has missed the post-season just twice in a 12-year career that has featured some of the most successful seasons in NFL history doesn't mean the 10-time Pro Bowl selection considers weeks such as these routine.
Far from it.
Manning, who this past weekend was named the Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player for a record fourth time, said while playoff time carries with it a certain amount of undeniable pressure, it's just as true that with that pressure comes opunity.
A very big opportunity, and a very real one, too.
"I guess it depends on the player," Manning said Tuesday as the AFC South Champion Colts (14-2) prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (10-7) in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday at 8:15 p.m. "Certainly, the intensity is there. It's supposed to be there. It's an elimination game.
"It's a unique opportunity. We feel fortunate to be one of the few teams still playing in the NFL right now, so it's an opportunity and one we're going to try to take advantage of. The young players are excited and the veteran players are excited. I'm sure Baltimore feels the same way.
"We're playing at home and hopefully, we'll find a way to grind out a win on Saturday."
The Colts, who have made the post-season eight consecutive seasons and who have won six of the last seven AFC South titles, clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the post-season with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Since then, the Colts have focused on preparing for the post-season, on being as healthy as possible, while the Ravens – who needed a final-game victory over the Oakland Raiders to qualify for the playoffs – beat the New England Patriots, 33-14, in an AFC Wild Card game Sunday.
"They're playing well right now," Manning said of the Ravens. "It will be a real challenge Saturday."
And Ravens Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said the same was obviously true of the Colts.
"In this stage of the game, everybody knows everybody is good," Harbaugh said Tuesday.
"This is what it's all about," Colts center Jeff Saturday said Tuesday. "You play a lot of tough games throughout the season to get to this point. All the stuff that goes on throughout the season, this is where it funnels down. This is where you set a legacy.
"This is where you make things happen, playing in big games and playing well in them."
The Ravens' victory Sunday set up not only a rematch of a game the Colts won, 17-15, in Baltimore in November, but set up another in what has been a recurring series between two of the AFC's most successful teams during the past decade.
The Ravens have made the postseason six times this decade, playing in the AFC Championship Game in 2000 and again last season. They won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season.
The Colts have made the postseason an NFL-high nine times during the decade, playing in the AFC Championship Game following the 2003 and 2006 seasons. They won the Super Bowl following the 2006 season.
The Colts that season beat the Ravens, 15-6, in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game.
And although that was the teams' lone postseason meeting, they have played eight times in the decade. The Ravens won in Baltimore, 39-27, in 2001, but the Colts have won the last seven meetings.
"While you can draw an experience from previous seasons, every game presents its own identity, and certainly, when you're talking about playing against the Ravens, you're talking about a lot of different years, you're talking about different coordinators ago, a lot of players that aren't even there anymore," Manning said.
"So, every game and every year certainly has its own identity, and it's going to be a tough game here in Indy on Saturday. We know that, but it'll be two really good teams playing against each other."
One constant in the rivalry on the Ravens' side: middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Like Manning, Lewis is a perennial Pro Bowl selection, and like Manning, he has a reputation as one of the NFL's most-intelligent, well-prepared players.
Lewis and Manning each have talked extensively in the past of their "match-up within the match-up," and Manning said this week while that may still exist, the Ravens' defense as a whole is too talented and productive to focus on one person.
"When playing against the Ravens, there is so much to factor in," Manning said. "Obviously, you've got to try to figure out how to get (linebacker Terrell) Suggs and their defensive line blocked, and you certainly need to know where [No.] 52 (Lewis) is. You've got to know where (safety Ed) Reed is, you've got to know where (safety Dawan) Landry is. There's plenty to think about and plenty on my plate every play as it is.
"But, it's always a great challenge playing against No. 52."
Mostly on Tuesday, Manning talked about not the outside issues around the Colts – their regular-season record, their No. 1 seed or their approach to the final weeks of the season – but on what the team has done during recent weeks. It is that, Manning said, that will determine the outcome on Saturday.
"Every player has different ways of getting themselves ready to play, but as a team, I felt like we had good work last week," Manning said. "I thought we had intense practices and focus on the field, and I think it's important this week to have that same attitude. The key to playing well on Saturday is what we do this week in practice.
"You know, you can talk about it all you want, but you have to go out there and do it during practice to be on the details. It's a very difficult team to prepare for. They're very talented, and certainly, mentally, it's a challenge, and I think the key is excellent preparation and on-the-field work."