Daring under duress
Manning shows toughness in Colts' loss to Chargers
Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2007 11:21AM; Updated: Tuesday November 13, 2007 11:21AM
One summer, maybe 20 years ago, I was vacationing with my family, and on one particular lazy afternoon I was sitting around outside the cottage we were renting, watching some ants. They were engaged in the project of dragging the body of a beetle back to their nest or wherever they lived.
It was like a military precision operation. Some dragged it until they got tired, then they gave way and others took over, while still others scouted the terrain ahead. This would certainly be a fine feast for their colony. It was beautifully organized.
I don't know what devil possessed me to do it, but all of a sudden I lifted the beetle from their midst. They went nuts, poor little things, running about in disarray, bumping into each other, tracking, backtracking, wandering off in confusion. I felt bad about it and restored the beetle to its rightful place, but it took them about two minutes before they settled down and resumed their duties.
Many of them never got over it and suffered lingering psychiatric problems. Some were profoundly affected by the experience, claiming they had personally seen the Hand of God. They became deeply religious. As for me, I recalled the whole scene Sunday night when I watched the Colts lose to the Chargers.
Peyton Manning, when he has his full colony of workers, is the closest thing to a drillmaster you will see on a football field. The operation is meticulously organized. But start removing elements from it and the drill can break down. And take away as many key portions of it as were removed Sunday night and you get, well, six interceptions.
The Colts went into the San Diego game with only 17 offensive players in uniform. Two went down during the game. Two key receivers, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark, were missing. Their top draft choice, Anthony Gonzalez, who was supposed to be in the mix somewhere, also was out of action. They were left with Reggie Wayne and back-ups, including a street free agent activated in October named Craphonso Thorpe.
They fell behind, 23-0. I thought the result would be like one of those New England Patriot adding machine things, except that Norv Turner doesn't run up scores. Then the beetle was returned and remarkably, things settled into some form of normalcy. And even with strange numbers on the uniforms of Manning's receivers, the Colts drove when they had to, scored, put points on the board, brought it back to 23-21 and took it down to the shadow of the Chargers' goal, where a missed 29-yard field goal did them in.
It was an amazing example of battlefield command, of somehow mustering a shattered army. But that's what Peyton is so good at, fighting the odds. I've seen him take some ferocious beatings, while running his show. For some reason teams that are hesitant to blitz other quarterbacks seem to feel it's the best strategy against him. I saw the Ravens, two years in a row, throw all sorts of exotic pressure packages at him, but he hung in -- it seemed as if almost every pass he threw was off his back foot -- and by the third quarter he had worn them out.