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Addai behind right tackle for five. Addai up the middle for three. And Addai--behind a block by Saturday that obliterated nosetackle Vince Wilfork--for three more yards and the winning touchdown.
"Peyton takes criticism that's unjust," said Saturday. "Look at that drive. You're telling me he couldn't have thought of a pass to get us into the end zone? Of course he could. But on the three biggest plays of the year for us, he hands it off."
And at least one of those plays was designed as a pass, according to offensive line coach Howard Mudd. "See," says Mudd, who has been with the Colts since Manning's rookie year, in 1998, "that's part of the brilliance of Peyton. And that's part of his maturation as a player. Understand something: He wants to run it. He looks at the defense, he sees what's better at that moment in time, and he does what's best for the offense. He'll come to the bench a lot of times and say, 'Hey, why aren't we running it more?' Is that the sign of a guy who only wants to throw it? Peyton organizes our offense unselfishly so we won't have bad plays."
Wayne echoes the
sentiment of Saturday and Mudd but also admits he's seen a changed Manning in
recent years. "Maybe three years ago, two years ago, Peyton doesn't call
three runs there," says Wayne. "Maybe he calls three passes. We're to
the point now where he knows, hey, we've just got to win."
But here is the difference: Three years ago, on first-and-10 from the New England 11, Manning almost certainly wouldn't have called three consecutive running plays to score. As one teammate said the week before the Super Bowl, "Peyton just trusts the running game now more than he has, even though we've lost Edgerrin James. Part of that is because he sees the defense can never play eight in the box down at the 10- , eight-yard line. They know there's too much of a chance he's going to throw it down there, obviously. So he sees the creases in the defense. He knows it's better to make a sure three yards than to throw, even if it's 50-50 or better that he can complete it."
The maturation of Manning, Mudd calls it. Says Manning, "If the defense is playing zone coverage and it's fourth-and-goal, I will check to that run play all the time. Doing that, you're putting the hat on the offensive line and the running backs to get in there and get it done. Jeff Saturday's block on Vince Wilfork on the third-down play near the goal line to me is one for the ages. Saturday wants the ball to be called right up behind him, and Dominic and Joe are getting into the end zone. I think that the execution is better than it has been in years past."
Manning trusts the running game more, and it is, 15 of 16 times in the two most important drives of the year, what he relied on to win.
Exactly two hours and 10 minutes before the divisional playoff game in Baltimore on Jan. 13, Manning walked onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium with Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Some of the players from each team hadn't arrived at the stadium yet, but here were three Colts, ready to work. There were a few yellow-coated security people on the field and a few league officials, but no one else. Manning and his receivers went through their route tree, the same way they do before every game.
One hundred and thirty minutes before kickoff, Manning threw a short out to one side, then the other, and then a skinny post, and then four sideline throws, and more, and more, for 40 minutes.
Reflecting on this scene--and on so many since Manning entered the league in 1998--it's hard to believe Manning did not win an NFL championship until age 30.