Game #7 of our countdown of Peyton Manning's Greatest Games takes us back to December 18, 2006, when the Colts hosted the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football. The Colts had lost two in a row, including the infamous 44-17 drubbing from the Jaguars the week before. Every sports writer in America was writing off the Colts as contenders, because they could not stop anybody defensively. Those sports writers, however, forgot who was under center, as Manning found an old friend 3 times for TDs.
The Colts forced a fumble on the Bengals opening possession, and Manning led the Colts for a Vinatieri FG to go up 3-0. Cincinnati added a FG of their own to tie the game. The Colts took the kickoff and marched 70 yards in 11 plays, capped off with Manning finding Harrison for a 4 yard Touchdown to go up 10-3. Manning was 6-7 for 67 yards on the drive.
The Bengals evened the score at 10 after a muffed punt by Terrance Wilkins. Manning and the Colts got the ball back with 6:44 to go before halftime. Again, Manning marched down the field for a 13 play, 61 yard drive, again finding Harrison for a 3 yard TD with only 0:13 left on the clock. Manning was 7-7 for 56 yards on the drive. However, his biggest play on the drive was a 12 yard scramble on 3rd and 9, keeping the drive alive.
The Colts led 17-10 at half, and Manning's stats at halftime:
I'm not going to check this stat, but I'm guessing it is the first and only time this has happened in Manning's career: He led the Colts in rushing in the first half with 10 yards rushing.
The second half did not start off so hot, as the Colts were stopped on 4th and 1 on their opening drive, and the Bengals added a FG to make it 17-13. The Colts next drive was aided heavily by at 41 yard run by Joseph Addai, but in the end it was Manning to Harrison for a third time, making it 24-13. This was the 8th time Manning and Harrison had hooked up 3 times for TDs in a game.
The Colts next possession saw the Bengals finally realize that Marvin Harrison was good, and Manning still didn't miss a beat. He went 3-3 for 44 yards, including 2 to Reggie Wayne, with the capper being an 18 yard TD pass to go up 31-13.
The two teams traded field goals in the 4th quarter, making the final score 34-16. Manning's final stats:
While Manning had a great day numbers wise, this was a great game for him because of what it led to later in the season. I really feel this was the turning point in the 2006 season. BBS said after the Jacksonville game:
I am not giving up. I will still blog, and I still support Dungy and Polian. However, I don't think this is a Super Bowl team. If I'm wrong, I'll be happily and joyfully wrong, but I don't think I am.
We all know BBS was very happy and joyful come February, and I think Manning put his team on his shoulders, and beat a good Bengals team in front of the whole country, letting everyone know the Colts were real contenders.
In Game #6, Manning shuts up more critics in the playoffs...