TERRE HAUTE —
The national pundits, the talk show yakkers and nearly everyone paid to wax poetic about the National Football League are going to declare Peyton Manning the runaway winner of Sunday’s Manning Bowl between Peyton’s Indianapolis Colts and Eli Manning’s New York Giants.
Simplistic though that may be — all manufactured hype is simplistic — it’s not as if they’d be wrong.
Peyton put on a clinic in front of his brother and the extended Manning family as he led the Colts on three first-half scoring drives to build a 24-0 halftime lead the Giants would only meekly threaten in the second half as the Colts eventually prevailed 38-14.
Peyton Manning’s first half dominance was striking. He had 154 passing yards and two touchdowns at halftime. Eli Manning had 17.
Passer rating at the break? Peyton 135, Eli 6.2. The Colts had 18 first downs to the Giants’ five.
While those numbers demonstrate that Peyton Manning was his usual cool, calm and collected self when the game was in the balance, it always tells another story.
The Colts defense was pretty darn good too.
Maligned after the Houston Texans rolled up 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 34-24 Texans victory in Houston on Sept. 12, the Colts defense was as much in the crosshairs as the Manning family was. After all, Colts fans have seen that movie before from the Colts, where the defense has been malleable in the face of a good running game.
With the Giants having Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in tow, there was no reason to belief that Sunday’s game could have been a ill-received sequel for the home folks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But on the first drive it was crystal clear that the Colts drafted a new screenplay for the Giants.
After the Colts methodically put together a 12-play, 80-yard, 6 minute, 44 second drive to take a 7-0 lead, the Giants went with a gadget play on their first play from scrimmage. Mario Manningham ran a reverse to the left side. He didn’t get far. Manningham creeped two yards over the line of scrimmage before Antoine Bethea put an almighty lick on him for a short gain.
On the next play, Fili Moala hammered Bradshaw behind the line of scrimmage for a two-yard loss. On third-and-10, Robert Mathis pressured Eli Manning into a hurried incomplete pass.
The tone was set … and the Colts defense didn’t let up.
The Giants went three-and-out on its next series and would’ve gone three-and-out on its third series if not for a borderline pass interference call on Kelvin Hayden. The Giants would get one more first down on that drive before they were stopped at midfield.
After the Colts took a 14-0 lead on a 50-yard Dallas Clark touchdown reception, the Giants tried a bomb of their own. Eli Manning rolled the dice and threw deep into triple-coverage to Steve Smith. The ball bounced off Smith and into the arms of Jerraud Powers for an interception that eventually led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
After Vinatieri field goal, which he converted with 5:05 to go in the second quarter, the Colts had a 12-minute advantage in time of possession. Eli Manning had one passing yard.
But it wasn’t the end of the Giants’ nightmare. On 3rd-and-1 from the Colts 48, Mathis blitzed off the edge, hit Eli Manning and forced a fumble that was recovered by Eric Foster. The turnover led to a Colts touchdown right before halftime to raise the Colts’ ante to 24-0.
Through most of the first half, Colts defensive ends Mathis and Dwight Freeney made life miserable for Giants tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie as they provided near constant pressure from the end spots.
The Colts stopped the run too. The Giants had a modest 58 yards at the break. The only noise Jacobs made was on first half late hit and a second half discus toss of his helmet into the crowd.
The pressure didn’t subside in the second half. Freeney hit Eli Manning on the first play of the second half, though he later found Manningham for a 54-yard touchdown strike.
But normal service soon resumed. Midway through the third quarter, Freeney hit Eli Manning at the Giants’ 10 and forced a fumble that Moala gleefully collected in the end zone for a deserved Colts defensive touchdown to make it 31-7.
More than Peyton Manning in a sibling rivalry with his brother, the Colts needed a good performance to re-establish the notion that they’re an improved unit this season.
Oh brother did they pull it off.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.