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Meticulous Manning leads Colts in another title quest

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has gained rave reviews from fans and players, and will look to lift his team to yet another championship title

MIAMI
PEYTON Manning, who treats broken jaws as minor annoyances and videotapes of opponents as a treasure map to triumphs, has the Indianapolis Colts on the verge of a second Super Bowl crown in four seasons.

The 33-year-old quarterback known for his uncanny versatility and work ethic will guide the Colts against the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s National Football League championship game having earned respect from teammates and foes alike.

“He’s one of the best of all time,” Saints safety Darren Sharper said. “He’s accurate and very intelligent. He has the strength for the long ball and the touch on his short passes.”

Manning, a 12-year veteran, threw for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns this season in sparking the Colts to a 14-0 start. His streak of consecutive starts stretched to 209 games, but Indy lost twice when he was benched to avoid injury.

“He doesn’t leave anything to chance in terms of preparation,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “Everything he does is well-thought out, calculated and time tested.”

That includes analyzing opposing defensive tendencies to better understand how they will realign and react when he sets his offense.

“Since film has been available, I have had a thirst for it,” Manning said. “We have a lot of routines that make us comfortable on game day. I’ve just been stuck in a routine that has been successful.”

In a 2001 game against Miami, Manning was slammed in the face and suffered a broken jaw. He grudgingly went to the bench for a play.

“The backup quarterback came in, and we fumbled the handoff, and the Dolphins got it, and we went on to lose the game,” Manning said, frustration in his tone.

“So I have kind of held it against myself since then for coming out for that one play. Maybe that has a little bit to do with trying to stay in there every single play since then.”

Manning, only 9-8 in playoff games despite his team’s 2007 Super Bowl title run, deflects dynasty talk, saying, “There’s already enough pressure to win this game” and “every team has its own identity.”

Manning, whose father, Archie, was quarterback of the Saints a generation ago, always talks with receivers during games, asking what moves they think might work so he can adapt and update his attack.

“He doesn’t settle for anything less than perfect,” Colts blocker Ryan Diem said. “There’s always confidence in him. He’s pretty efficient under pressure.”

The Colts won an NFL-high seven games after trailing in the fourth quarter and converted an NFL-best 49 percent on third downs to sustain drives.

“His poise and confidence get better every game,” Colts center Jim Saturday said. “Regardless of the score, we’re not out of it. A lot of that comes from him. We take a lot of confidence we can win. We don’t shrink back from that.”

Manning makes gestures and screams signals to indicate changes in the play he called in the huddle up until the last seconds before Saturday snaps him the ball, some of his moves calculated simply to deceive the defenders.

“He sees the game as a coach on the field,” Saturday said. “He will bait a guy and see if he adjusts. He loves to play those games. He watches TV coverage, and if you can hear our calls, we change and make dummy calls.”

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma will call defensive signals against Manning.

“I don’t know if I want to go back and forth with him,” Vilma said. “He’s always going to win that battle.” AFP

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