INDIANAPOLIS (AP) There’s a price to pay for keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands.
Once he gets it, he doesn’t give it back – at least not until he’s gotten the Indianapolis Colts plenty of points and a playoff win.
In his first game since winning an unprecedented fourth NFL MVP award, Manning threw for two touchdowns Saturday night in a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts will host the AFC championship next Sunday against San Diego or the New York Jets.
“Whoever it is, we know it’s going to be a challenge and we have to step it up another notch,” coach Jim Caldwell said.
Manning and the other Colts starters got lots of rest when the rookie coach sat them for long portions of the final two regular-season games, both losses after they had opened 14-0. Then they had a bye, a reward for owning the league’s best record.
And when the Ravens (10-8), who routed New England in the wild-card round, marched 87 yards for an early field goal, the All-Pro quarterback’s sour face told it all.
By halftime, the scoreboard told it all: Indianapolis 17, Baltimore 3.
“I thought we had good preparation coming into this game,” Manning said, “and I thought we came out sharp and kind of set the tempo from the get-go.”
It didn’t get any tighter, even though Ed Reed got his fourth career interception of Manning in the third quarter. Reed was stripped of the ball by a sprinting Pierre Garcon, the intended receiver, at the end of a 38-yard return. Dallas Clark recovered, and Reed was robbed of another pick five plays later because of a pass interference call on Corey Ivy.
The Ravens’ vaunted defense was self-destructing, and Manning gave it another push toward the offseason with a 14-play drive to Matt Stover’s 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Directing a patient offense, Manning finished 30 of 44 for 246 yards.
“It’s about executing on that day. I don’t think it matters if you’ve had a bye or you’re playing home or away,” Manning said. “This myth that you can’t win after a bye week, I haven’t believed in it.”