HITTING THEIR STRIDE

The Colts didn't score in the first quarter of their second prime-time appearance in as many weeks. But they scored four touchdowns in the second and third quarters en route to a 31-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday Night Football.

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Colts Pull Away from Arizona Cardinals for 31-10 Road Victory on Sunday Night Football

Peyton Manning didn't like much about the Colts' offense early. That changed quickly.

And actually, it changed a lot.

Manning, one week after rallying the Colts from two fourth-quarter deficits, overcame a comparatively slow start by the Colts' offense Sunday night, throwing four touchdown passes in the second and third quarters and leading the Colts to a 31-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in front of 62,692 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

This one wasn't easy, Manning said.

And it was about taking the correct mental approach as much as physical.

"It was imant to stay patient," Manning told NBC Sunday Night Football's Andrea Kremer moments after leading the Colts to a second nationally-televised, prime-time victory in as many weeks.

"You want to come out and keep the crowd out of it. Our defense was doing that, but we had three three and outs in a row. We wanted to be aggressive, go three wides, take our shots and spread them out.

"We didn't hit them early, but we hit them when it counted as the game went on."

It was the Colts' 12th consecutive regular-season victory dating to last season, and their sixth consecutive regular-season road victory dating to last season.

Each total is one shy of the franchise record.

The victory came in a circumstance considered one of the most difficult possible in the NFL, with the Colts traveling to the West Coast just six days after playing a night road game in South Florida.

"This is one of those wins that certainly was indeed gratifying," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell told Colts Radio, "because of the fact there were a lot of tough conditions and situations we had to deal with in preparation for the game.

"The guys, the way they came out and played . . . all across the board there was just tremendous effort, offensively, defensively and in our kicking game as well.

"That was a good football team we played."

The Colts, six days after rallying for a physically-draining, 27-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins, trailed the Cardinals 3-0 after the first quarter, Sunday. The Colts punted on their first three possessions, and the Cardinals intercepted Manning on the fourth.

The next three possessions?

• A 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
• A 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark.
• A 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon.

"He was on fire," Caldwell told Colts Radio of Manning, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. "He did a great job as usual. We see him do it so often we tend to take it for granted. But we can't take it for granted."

Said Wayne, "Once we felt them out, we started making some plays."

The Colts rushed for 126 yards on 31 carries, with veteran Joseph Addai rushing for 63 yards on 13 carries and rookie Donald Brown rushing for 40 yards on 14 carries.

"I thought that was important," Manning told NBC. "That was one of the big reasons we hit some of those plays off play action. Donald and Joe were popping some runs; the line was getting some push. That's when we're at our best, when we're three-dimensional – drop back, play action and run."

Arizona, the defending NFC Champion, committed three turnovers, two in a second quarter during which Indianapolis turned a three-point deficit into a 21-3 lead.

The Colts, a week after allowing the Dolphins to hold possession 45:07 and to rush 49 times for 239 yards, held the Cardinals to 24 yards rushing on 12 carries. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who completed 24 of 26 passes a week ago in a victory over Jacksonville, completed 30 of 52 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

"NFL players have a lot of pride," Manning said. "They (the defensive players) were disappointed in their performance last week. They really came out and answered the bell. That was really impressive."

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Warner twice, defensive end Robert Mathis had one sack, and defensive end Raheem Brock had one in the fourth quarter for a 28-yard loss.

"Our guys revved it up when it came time to rush the passer," Caldwell said.

"That's what we're built for," Mathis said. "We went out and did our job. We worked all week on it and we reaped the benefits of the hard work."

The Colts, after falling behind 3-0 after the first quarter, took an 18-point lead with an efficient, big-play second quarter. Manning threw three touchdown passes in the period.

First, Manning took advantage of an Arizona turnover to turn what was potentially a double-digit deficit into a four-point lead. The Colts drove 95 yards on 11 plays, then scored when Manning found Wayne on the right side of the field.

Wayne caught the pass one-handed, then shifted the ball to his right hand and gained possession, getting his knee on the ground in bounds and crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

"You can't draw that up," Manning told NBC. "But he's capable of making those plays. When I threw it, I thought I may have led him a little too much. I thought he did a great job. The catch in itself was outstanding, but he got in bounds. He got his feet in. Those are the kinds plays he makes, and we expect him to make. That play really got us going."

The drive began when safety Antoine Bethea recovered a fumble at the Indianapolis 5.

The Colts pushed the lead to 11 on the ensuing series, with Manning passing 10 yards to tight end Clark, whose touchdown pass capped a six-play, 57-yard drive.

Manning then capped a four-play, 68-yard drive with a 53-yard touchdown pass deep down the right sideline to Garcon, who beat Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie deep for his second touchdown in as many weeks.

The Cardinals closed the half by driving deep into Colts territory, but Bethea intercepted a caroming pass in the end zone to preserve the Colts' 18-point halftime lead.

The Cardinals – who took the lead on a 38-yard first-quarter field goal by Neil Rackers – cut the lead to 11 points on the first drive of the third quarter, with Warner driving Arizona 73 yards on eight plays and capping the drive with a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the left corner of the end zone. The drive consumed 4:10.

The Colts then pushed the lead back to 18 with Manning's fourth touchdown pass – a 3-yarder in the third quarter to Addai.

With the victory, the Colts took a two-game lead in the AFC South over Jacksonville (1-2) and Houston (1-2) and a three-game lead over the defending AFC South Champion Tennessee Titans (0-3), who lost to the New York Jets Sunday.

The Colts won five consecutive AFC South titles from 2003-2007 and made the playoffs as a 12-4 wild-card entrant last season.

"It's big, but we can't get complacent," Mathis said. "That gap can close in any given week. We've got to keep doing what we do."

Said Caldwell, "We're 3-0, but all it does is assure us we won't go 2-14."

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