Manning Turns in One of the Most Memorable Performances to Clinch Playoff Berth
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – He fell just short of an NFL record.
But considering the circumstances, considering the result, and considering that there was a bit more on his mind than football, Peyton Manning didn't much mind.
Manning, the Colts' nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, on Thursday night paid tribute to a pioneer of his position in clutch fashion, and in so doing, he did more than turn in one of the most memorable performances of a memorable career.
He also helped the Colts clinch a seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
"I was," Manning said afterward, "slingin' it like Sammy."
Manning, who this week was voted to his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl, spoke in reference to the late Sammy Baugh, a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Washington Redskins who died on Wednesday at the age of 94.
Manning on Thursday wore a wristband to honor Baugh on which he had written, "SB 33," Baugh's initials and uniform number. Manning several years ago spent time with Baugh at Baugh's home in Rotan, Texas.
But Manning's night was about a lot more than tributes.
On a night when the Colts' running game struggled at times, and on a night when the defense when the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense had early success against the Colts' defense, Manning started out hot and stayed that way, strengthening a case for a third NFL Most Valuable Player honor that he declined to discuss much afterward.
His head coach, Tony Dungy, didn't decline the opunity.
In fact, he embraced it.
"That was," Dungy said, "an MVP performance, for sure."
Manning completed his first 17 passes in the Colts' game against the Jaguars. Combined with six consecutive completions at the end of the Colts' victory over Detroit last week, he completed 23 consecutive passes.
That left him one shy of the NFL record held by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Manning had shared the previous Colts record with Bert Jones at 17.
Manning started Thursday night's game hot, completing four of four first-quarter passes for 21 yards, then completing 9 of 9 second-quarter passes for 148 yards and a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"It's just a mindset to stay on the field, I guess," Manning said. "At halftime, I always kind of ask (Associate Head) Coach (Jim) Caldwell and (wide receivers coach) Clyde Christensen) if they see anything. I said, 'Do you have anything for me?'
"They said, 'You haven't thrown an incompletion. We don't really have a whole lot of coaching points for you. Just try to keep doing what you're doing.' "
He completed his first four passes of the third quarter before his first incompletion – a long pass into the end zone after wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez cut a route short.
Manning completed 29 of 34 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and a season-high passer rating of 140.7, and for the season, he has 3,907 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"You face a defense as good as Jacksonville – for him to step up and have that kind of performance I think shows why he's a leader in our game," Colts center Jeff Saturday.
In the Colts' eight-game winning streak, has thrown 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions, catapulting into MVP conversation. He was the co-MVP in 2003 with Steve McNair and won the award again the next season.
"It was really unbelievable under the circumstances," Dungy said. "The one thing I talked about to him, just briefly, was, 'Let's not get out of our game. We'll get the defense squared away, but let's not feel like we have to score every time we have it and press.'
"But it almost felt like that. We were having trouble stopping them. (Kicker) Adam (Vinatieri) misses a (30-yard) field goal, so it was one of those times where you knew we were going to have to score and we weren't running the ball well. They were running some stunts that took us out of it, so basically we had to throw to catch up and that's hard to do.
"It's hard to not throw interceptions when they know you have to throw, so all in all – with everything that was riding on it, the score of the game, the way we were playing – it was a great performance."