The drive stays alive

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was a meaningless fumble at the beginning of an equally academic fourth quarter.

Never mind that his Indianapolis Colts were well on their way to a 35-3 win over the Tennessee Titans yesterday, quarterback Peyton Manning still was peeved.

Back on the sidelines, he tossed aside the photos handed to him of the play in which running back Edgerrin James lost the ball, then shook his head in disgust.

You think the game's premiere quarterback doesn't covet perfection?

Think again.

With this team, actions speak as loud as the ear-tingling noise inside the RCA Dome. And with the most lopsided winning margin of their 12 victories thus far, the Colts moved one step closer to a magical unbeaten season.

In the Colts' locker room afterward, Manning came the closest he has thus far to acknowledging the tantaliazing opportunity in front of him and his teammates.

After a three-touchdown performance -- giving him 25 on the season -- Manning said he won't be consumed by the chase, but won't shy away from it either.

"I am a fan of the history of the game and am respectful of all that," Manning said with one eye trained on a TV screen where his little brother Eli and the New York Giants were finishing off the Dallas Cowboys.

"But when you are in the middle of it, it's more enjoying the journey, not the destination. I think that's why we are 12-0. We use the often boring cliche of taking it one game at a time because that's what we have to do."

One more notch makes these Colts just the fifth team in NFL history to win their opening dozen.

The latter three -- the 1972 Dolphins, '85 Bears and 1998 Broncos -- all finished off their runs with championships.

As surrounded as he is by talent, Manning's leadership shines both on the field and off. During the game, he was his usual efficient self, spreading the ball to multiple receivers, garnishing the buffet with a heavy dose of James (107 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries).

As serious as he takes the game, after hitting the showers, Manning showed he isn't nearly so serious about himself.

Unlike most quarterbacks who are brought to podiums by dutiful PR flacks, he holds court by his stall in the Colts' locker room.

Yesterday, he stayed until every last reporter had asked every last question, repetitive or not, before heading out for some dinner with his teammates.

"I definitely realize the opportunity," Manning said of joining those '72 Dolphins as the NFL's only unbeaten team.

"I've been playing eight years in the league. I know how tough it is to win nine, 10 games (in a season). To win 12 in a season is extremely hard. You don't have time to pat yourself on the back, but you do feel you have done something good so far. We would like to do something special with this season and we're working towards that goal."

It is a testament to the coaching of Tony Dungy and the work ethic of Manning and other Indy veterans that they won't take any opponent too lightly.

Though a definite weakling, the Titans (3-9) were determined, in the early going at least, to put up a fight.

But once it became clear the Colts were serious about putting them in their place, the mismatch on paper became the same on the field.

"They are NFL players, they are professionals," said Colts tight end Dallas Clark, echoing the mantra of his quarterback.

"We have no excuse to let up. Shame on us if we do."


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