Colts get down, dirty

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

It ultimately will be little more than a footnote to the ongoing exploits of the Indianapolis Colts and their quarterback Peyton Manning.

But if the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots took notice of anything the Colts did yesterday, it was plays like this.

As they did a year ago, the Colts manhandled the Denver Broncos in an AFC wild-card playoff with a beyond convincing 49-24 home victory. The hit in question game early in the fourth quarter on an icing-on-the-cake touchdown catch and run by Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.

With just one Bronco to beat, fellow receiver Marvin Harrison lowered his body and levelled cornerback Champ Bailey, springing Wayne a clear path to the end zone.

So much for the word on the NFL street that the Colts were soft-shelled pretenders afraid to get down and dirty.

"Anytime your little man comes out there and knocks somebody down, you're pumped," Colts centre Jeff Saturday said. "He really put (Bailey) across the line.

"You can call us soft but we scored 49 points, which I'll take any day. And I didn't see anybody hiding."

The sellout crowd of 56,609 at the RCA Dome cheered what is becoming the routine exploits of Manning, who had one of the most productive games in NFL playoff history.

His 457 passing yards were topped only by the 489 Bernie Kosar put up for the Cleveland Browns in 1986. With his usual precision, Manning tossed four touchdown passes and scored a fifth on a quarterback sneak.

But the roars that bounced at least as loud off the teflon walls here were for the physical plays, not finesse.

There was defensive end Raheem Brock pummelling Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer for a sack and nine-yard loss late in the second quarter.

There was Wayne's block plus many more offence and all-round fierce tackling on defence.

The Colts' horsepower was never in question. But if they really wanted to be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders, they had to show something more.

They had to show that they could hit and be hit. That they could score and then stop an opponent from doing the same.

A 35-3 lead at halftime was even better than the 31-3 count over the Broncos in last year's wild-card game. What made that much worse for the Broncos was the physical punishment that went with it.

"Hopefully we did send a message but if we didn't, we'll send a message next week, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "I felt we were dominant at times in every area."

That the Colts will be able to proceed with a semblance of a defence automatically boosts their chances.

The offence will still be the story, however. When the Broncos focused their coverage on the Colts two leading receivers, Harrison and Brandon Stokley, Manning gladly looked elsewhere.

He fed Wayne for his two touchdowns and found tight end Dallas Clark up the middle plus just enough of running back Edgerrin James to keep things interesting.

"A lot of different teams have tried a lot of different things against us so I guess it's really tough," Stokley said.

"We have so many playmakers, it's tough for a defence to take a stand."

This time, it was the Colts who made the statement after silently taking the chirping coming out of Denver that they were too soft to be good.

"They beat us so badly, to say that hand anything to do with it would be making excuses," said Broncos safety John Lynch, tail between his legs.

"I have never been in a game were so much has felt like almost hopeless."


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