QB-PEYTON MANNING (on the biggest challenge in facing San Diego's defense)
"They have good players, really good players. We've certainly played them a number of times, but these past few years it's kind of been that same core group of players. They are just solid across the board. Excellent cover guys, active linebackers and (they are) real stout up front. It's always been a real challenge moving the ball against them. Running the ball against them is always a challenge. Two excellent cover corners on the outside and a first round draft choice in the nickel slot, so solid across the board. They're playing extremely well right now. They're flying to the football, they're creating turnovers and giving their offense good field position. Their offense, obviously we don't study film, but you certainly notice that they're playing real well. (QB) Philip (Rivers) has had a great year all season long, and he's really hot right now. Obviously they're taking advantage of the defense getting them that field position and getting into the end zone. So, it's important for us to try to move the ball and try to score some points and try to keep the game close if we can."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if San Diego is different defensively with new Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera)
"I guess we played them the first week after the change was made. I just think they're playing real sound right now. They have always kind of feasted on teams that are making mistakes and aren't sure of what they're doing. They're always looking for turnovers and swarming to the football. They're getting a lot of those things right now. They're creating turnovers and just playing fast is what I've seen on film. That seems to be the main thing going on right now."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on playing a team again in the playoffs)
"It's kind of similar with us and New England the past few years, maybe even us and Baltimore. It's almost like a division game. You're playing them twice a year. You're definitely seeing them once a year. Obviously, there's a lot of familiarity amongst the players. There's always going to be changes in schemes each time you play, wrinkles here and there, but you do know the players. I think the thing is I know how good of a team they are and I know the problems they can cause. Like I said, defensively they're a challenge to move the ball against. I know it's important for us to try to score some points because their offense is really playing at a high level right now."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if the Colts can do what they want to do in the playoffs without improvement from the running game)
"Our goal every game all season long has been to try to establish the run. You always kind of feel like, 'Today might be the day that things are going to pop.' I think if you look at us statistically, we've always tried to be balanced. We always feel the most comfortable when we're balanced. There's no surprise that we're going to try to be balanced from here on out. It's good to have Joe Addai back. Dominic (Rhodes), I tell you, what he's done this year has been great. Thank goodness we were able to get him back. Both of those guys are going to be key factors in the game. They've done a good job with the passing game, but there's no question that we'd like to be able to get some running game going. We could mix up our drop back and play action off of that. That's certainly the plan going in."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on finding different ways to get the ball to the RBs)
"I think your goal is to try to get those guys in space and try to get the ball in your playmakers' hands. We're always looking for ways to get it to (TE) Dallas (Clark). He's one of our best runners with the football after the catch, and the same with Joseph and Dominic. Whether it's handing the ball off to them or throwing them screens or lining them up out wide, good things happen when the ball gets in those guys' hands. A great example against the Titans (Sunday), a little two-yard pass, all quarterbacks love those, and (Addai) takes it for (55) yards. That's what we have to do. We have to get the ball in our playmakers' hands."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on how difficult this year has been)
"It's just been different. It's been an entirely different season. I think the one thing that's been inaccurate is that the seasons we were starting out 13-0, 8-0, 7-0 that it was easy, so all of a sudden this year we are 3-4 and now things are hard. Believe me it's never easy to win a game. I've never taken for granted winning a football game. Those seasons that we were starting off with a winning streak it was hard, we were earning those victories. But this year we certainly found ourselves in a hole starting off with the first game being 0-1. We hadn't lost an opener in a long time. But really, at that 3-4 mark, I think you do find out a lot about yourself as a player for one thing and as an individual – are you still doing the same things at 3-4 that you would have been doing if you were 8-0 and all things were good? – but as a team also, what kind of character that we had as a team. I've just been proud to be a part of a team that really reached down and dug down deep and found a way to get out of that hole. Very similar to San Diego, we feel like we've been playing elimination games these past six, seven weeks. San Diego, if they would have lost their season was over. If we would have lost, we felt like we couldn't have caught up to whoever, New England, Baltimore, the other wild-card teams we were playing against. We have had a lot of pressure on us. We put pressure on ourselves these past eight weeks, and it's nice to know that you can answer the bell when you challenge yourself and they're must-win games and you have to do it. It's nice to be able to do it. Now, in the playoffs, how you got here, what you did in the past, we all know is pretty irrelevant. It's kind of who plays better on that day, but it's nice to know that we found ourselves in a hole and answered the question, 'Could we dig ourselves out?'"
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on his personal difficulties this season)
"It's been different. It's not something that I want to go through again. I have a whole new respect level for guys like (Cincinnati QB) Carson Palmer that have recovered from ACL injuries and what (New England QB) Tom (Brady) is going through and the many players that have had major injuries and rehab. Let me make it clear, mine in no way compares to major ACL surgery, but just the little time with the trainers and the rehab, it just gives you a whole new respect for guys that have been able to come back from injuries. It's kind of my first taste of it, really kind of uncharted territory for me, and like I said it was just different. Any time something is different there's always some unknown. You just don't know, and you're not as comfortable. I'm glad it's over with. It's not something I want to really go through again, and I'm just glad we have a chance to be playing here in the postseason."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on what it would mean to him to win the MVP this season)
"It would be part of a team thing. I know it's an individual award, but it would truly be, in my opinion, a team award. In football terms, let me make this clear, adversity going on in the world right now with the war and the economy, that's real adversity, but in football terms we have been through some things this year. For us on offense, like I said, me not being as comfortable as I wanted to be early in the season, and then all of a sudden I lose my biggest security blanket in my center, Jeff Saturday. That was a pretty good 1-2 punch to start the season. The fact that we've persevered through some of these things and put ourselves in a place here in the postseason, it's been the most rewarding regular season that I've been a part of in my 11 years, and I have to believe a lot of the other players and even coaches might feel the same way. So, it would be a nice thing on behalf of the team. I really feel that way."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if he still experiences the pure joy of playing the game even as the stakes get higher)
"Absolutely, and Coach (Tony) Dungy talks about that. These are the games that you want to play in. There are more things going on during the week and it's only one of a couple of games being played, but once the game actually starts it still is football and you like to be playing in these types of games. It will be a great atmosphere on Saturday night up there playing a great football team, and it really ought to be a great ballgame. As a football player, you feel fortunate to have a chance to play in these types of games."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on what he stresses with the younger players about the difference between the regular season and the playoffs)
"Coach Dungy really does a good job of that, just trying to let them know that the more normal you can make it the better chance you have to succeed. You do hear those things, 'The game's faster, it's more intense.' I think you have to be careful going into the game thinking it's going to be a whole entirely different ballgame. For our young players, for (OG) Mike Pollak and some of our first- and second-year guys, the more they can get out there and realize that it still is football, you still have to go and block and tackle and make catches, the better chance you have to succeed. I think that's good advice that Coach has given these young guys, and I think that holds pretty true."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if it is fair to look at the beginning on the team's winning streak and say that was when he was 100% healthy)
"No. Like I said, I thought overall as a team we started doing things that we used to do. We started creating more turnovers on defense, our offense started capitalizing on those turnovers. The Pittsburgh game (on Nov. 9) was a great example. Our defense got some timely turnovers and offensively we turned them into touchdowns. We cut down on our penalties. We have our turnover rankings in the league and our penalty rankings in the league in our main meeting room and I think we were 20th or in the high teens in turnovers and I saw where we finished the season 4th. That's our goal to be in the top five. I feel like we got in that top five once we started our winning streak when we started protecting the ball better. Our red zone touchdown percentage went up. If you call it 'Dungy Football, Colts Style,' not Buccaneers' style, Colts style Dungy ball, I think we started playing that. We got back to just basic, fundamental football. The things that Coach has always been preaching to us, we started doing those things. But, I will say around that time I started getting back to a normal practice routine as far as what I'm used to be doing the past 11 years, so I felt more comfortable playing as well."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on RB-Dominic Rhodes)
"Dom's one of our great leaders in the locker room. I still think about his touchdown against San Diego (on Nov. 23), I've never seen a spike hit the ground and go up that high. That's him. Everything is real about that. It's a 100-percent natural reaction, and players feed off that. He's been fresh this year. In a lot of ways, you look at his year in Oakland, because of the players they drafted, all of the backs, he almost kind of had a year off last year. He just didn't play that much, and I feel we really reaped the benefits of that because he's come in fresh. He's healthy. He seems faster to me, and he's just made some huge plays for us this year in some real critical times. He's going to be big in the postseason. (RB Coach) Gene Huey has his rotation with those guys, but whoever is in there we feel that we can do the same things and be effective."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if it is good to have another player to rely on)
"Sure, especially a guy that's handling the football. You'd like to have guys with as much experience as possible here in the playoffs. There's no question two years ago in our championship run Dominic and Dallas were probably the MVPs of the playoffs that year. Those guys just got on a run in all four of those postseason games and played great. You like having as many of those guys around as possible."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on having a coaching headset on Sunday)
"I would much rather be out there on the field. Some of the things said on the headphones about players that are out there on the field, I really don't want to hear what they are saying about me out there on the field, 'What is he doing? Why is he throwing it to him?' There's a lot of that on the sidelines, stuff that's better just heard by the coaches. (QB-Jim) Sorg(i) and I have our lines of communication, and he just says he's more comfortable hearing my voice out there on Sundays. Sorg did a great job, he really did. People talk about me missing the preseason, he missed all the preseason too. The one year he finally had a chance to play, he had bad luck and he missed it, so for him not having many reps at all to go in there and move the offense like he did I was proud of him. I was really glad we got the win. We really wanted to keep winning and just get a positive feeling in the locker room going into the playoffs. He did a great job."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if he takes anything away from the NY Giants winning the Super Bowl last year as a wild-card team)
"I think you certainly can. I think it's been proven the last three years that your seed and where you're playing really does not matter. It's who's playing the best football in the month of January that's going to have the best chance to advance. Your goal is to try to win the division every year and win the division to have the best record and get the bye and you get the home field. That's what you want. That's your job to have that goal, but now that we're here it's really anybody's to take. I think across the board in the AFC you have six teams that are playing really well right now. I think it's wide open. Who's going to be able to make the most plays will have a chance to go and advance."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on what he told players when the team was 3-4)
"For me, it wasn't as foreign because my rookie year (1998) we certainly had a losing record and I can't say I honestly felt like it was going to get a whole lot better that year. It was a struggle all season. My fourth year (2001) we started out 2-0 and then started losing some. (This year) there was no team meeting or players-only meeting that you here about. Those are scary by the way, we don't have any of those around here. There was no great speech by Coach Dungy. It was just try to keep doing the things that you've always done, just try to do them a little bit better. Do your fundamentals, do your quarterback drills, try to take care of your job and do your job better. I certainly wanted to start playing better football, but everybody did. Everybody raised their level of play up, and I think that was the main thing that happened. Like in all cases we got some breaks and had some things go our way, but I think we definitely started playing better across the board as a team at that point."
QB-PEYTON MANNING (on if individual effort translated into raising the team's level of play)
"Yes, I think so. That's what Coach Dungy talked about to some of the leaders. We talk about everybody just doing your job. 'Everybody just do your job. It's a team sport, but you have to do your job. Worry about your job and that should bring the level of the team's play up.' I think that's what happened."