Manning will be difference
Football is the ultimate team sport, and every player must do his part. Then there’s the case of Peyton Manning, the best quarterback toiling in the NFL, and an all-time great.
On Sunday in Miami, and with Super Bowl XLIV on the line, Manning hopes to lead Indianapolis to its second title in four years.
It won’t be easy because New Orleans is the NFL’s top scoring team at nearly 32 points, with its own gunslinger in Drew Brees, who throws to wide receiver Marques Colston (70 catches and 1,074 yards in the regular season), and hands the ball off to running back Pierre Thomas (793 yards and 147 carries).
Manning has been named the league’s Most Valuable Player a record four times, and will need to be sharp against the Saints.
He was in the AFC title match against New York, which had him slightly confused early, until he found his sea legs, and ripped the Jets’ defense for 24 unanswered points in a 30-17 win.
The Saints will offer more resistance than the Jets, because of Brees, who has one-time Heisman Trophy winner and former USC product Reggie Bush in the backfield, who also returns punts and is a receiver (47 catches for 335 yards).
Indianapolis rattled off 14 consecutive wins this season, but then stumbled twice to close out the campaign. Once the playoffs began, however, the Colts knocked off the Baltimore Ravens, 20-3, and then handed the Jets a 13-point setback.
Manning has thrown for more than 50,000 yards, and has eclipsed 4,000 yards in 10 of his 12 seasons. A career 62.4 percent passer with just over 4,800 yards in the postseason, Manning has tossed five touchdowns with one interception during this playoff run.
If he gets time, Manning will do the same to the Saints, who opened 2009 with 13 straight wins, before losing the final three regular-season games.
Manning has been selected to 10 Pro Bowls, and will not allow the Colts to lose, even if they appear on the brink of doing so.
Beginning in 1998, when Manning was drafted No. 1 overall after a stellar career at the University of Tennessee, Indianapolis has led the NFL in third and fourth down conversions.
Though not gifted with foot speed, Manning is blessed with a strong and accurate throwing arm, and at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, has the ability to throw over the defensive line and find wide receivers Reggie Wayne (100 catches for 1,264 yards), Austin Collie (676 yards and 60 catches), Pierre Garcon (765 yards and 47 receptions), and tight end Dallas Clark (100 catches for 1,106 yards). The Colts don’t run the ball well, are led by Joseph Addai (828 yards and 219 carries), and need about 100 yards on the ground to succeed.
New Orleans will score because of Brees, who has thrown for 4,388 yards, with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Brees uncorked three scoring passes in the 31-28 overtime victory against Minnesota in the NFC title game.
The Colts have an overlooked defense led by end Dwight Freeney (13 1/2 sacks). Freeney’s the Colts’ career leader in that category, but his status is uncertain because of an ankle injury.
No problem. The Colts have Manning, and a swarming and relentless defense. Because they do, the Colts win. The score: Indianapolis 31, New Orleans 24.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.