Goofus and Gallant squared off in Indianapolis on Sunday. Score one for courtliness and good manners. Polite Peyton Manning notched his first NFL victory in leading the Colts to a 17-12 win over the San Diego Chargers, quarter-backed by the tantrum-prone Ryan Leaf. Both completed 12 of 23 passes, both were relieved to have been intercepted only once. (Manning threw a touchdown pass, Leaf didn't.) Both remained in character when asked to recount their post-game chat.
Manning: "I said, 'Good luck, see you down the road.' "
Leaf [with attitude]: "That's personal."
Our young heroes had been hemorrhaging turnovers before turning in fair performances on Sunday. Leaf came into the game with eight interceptions, three lost fumbles and a near-freezing quarterback rating of 32.1. Manning's 11 interceptions were the most in the league; his dozen turnovers had led to 59 points by Colts foes—19 more than Indy had scored altogether.
While both have put up some gruesome numbers, it is safe to say, five games into their first season, that one is ahead of the other. In fact, Manning is ahead of all other AFC quarterbacks in passing yards, with 1,129. In terms of reading defenses, running through receiver options and seeing the whole field, Leaf versus Manning is "no contest," according to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. Jaws, who was at the RCA Dome, was surprised by how much more zip Manning has on his passes than he did last year and was impressed by his ability to master a system that's more complex than the one Leaf is running. That Manning is succeeding comes as no surprise to former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who served as a consultant to the Colts when they were deciding which of the young guns to draft. "Manning had played an extra season in a more intense program, had totally mastered his position," Walsh says. "He was probably the best prepared quarterback ever to enter the NFL. But he's still struggled."
Thank the NFL Competition Committee for that. In its zeal to infuse the game with increased offense, that august body has forced defenses to respond with ever more perverse torments. "We have so many wrinkles, even we get confused out there," says Colts defensive tackle Ellis Johnson.
Manning will be the first to tell you he has plenty of work to do. He has thrown more balls into coverage than might have been expected from the holder of the NCAA record for lowest percentage of interceptions over a career. What's up with those forced throws? "I give credit to the defenses, but I don't give 'em too much credit," he says. "I make mistakes, I shoulder the responsibility. I expect to play better."
Both quarterbacks could use a little more help from their friends. Leaf had a sweet 45-yard scoring pass wiped out because right tackle Vaughn Parker lined up too far off the line of scrimmage. On the game's first play Manning's rope to Marvin Harrison hit the third-year wideout between the numbers, then hit the turf, the first of a half dozen drops by Indy receivers. To see this 19-penalty game was to realize that the rookie quarterbacks of the Chargers and Colts have struggled in large part because they play for the Chargers and Colts.
"Nothing's really coming easy for us right now," Manning said after the game. "We kept fighting, and we found a way to win." As he walked off the field after his little confab with Leaf, Manning was asked if he'd given his fellow rookie a pep talk. "Pep talk?" said Manning. "Hey, he's the one with two wins."