Peyton Manning's Greatest Games - #2

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Game #2 takes us back to January 4, 2004, when the Colts hosted the Denver Broncos on Wild Card Weekend.  This was Manning's 4th playoff game, in which he was 0-3.  He couldn't win a playoff game.  Tony Dungy couldn't win a playoff game (he'd lost in the first round each of the previous seasons).  Boy did Manning quiet his critics on this day.

Two weeks earlier, the Broncos visited the RCA Dome, without RB Clinton Portis.  I remember this distinctively for two reasons:  I was at the game, and I lost the finals of Fantasy Football because he didn't play.  The first game with the Broncos could be considered one of Manning's worst games as a professional.  The Colts had no rhythm on offense, and only managed 10 points (Gary Brackett had an INT return for a TD in the first quarter, right in front of our seats), and 15:00 of time of possession.  The defense couldn't stop the backup RB in Quentin Griffin either.  I was not very confident going into the playoffs.

The playoffs, however, were a completely different story from the get-go.  The Colts took the opening kickoff, and Edgerrin touched the ball on the first 5 plays, getting down to the Denver 31.  That's where Manning's assault on the Denver secondary began.  He found Brandon Stokley for a 31 yard TD to go up 7-0.  Denver then tried the common approach to beating the Manning-led Colts:  keep the ball out of Manning's hands.  They had a 12 play, 8:13 drive, but only managed 3 points.  Denver's strategy quickly went out the door.

On the next possession, the Colts faced a 3rd and 8 from the Denver 46.  Manning found Marvin Harrison for a 16 yard play as he fell to the ground to make the catch.  He realized, however, that none of the Broncos that stood over him (Lenny Walls, Kelly Herndon, and Al Wilson)decided to touch him.  Marvin got up, ran into the end zone untouched, and the Colts led 14-3.  That pretty much summed up the Broncos' day.  The Colts got the ball back again, and 8 plays later Manning again found Harrison for a 23 yard TD.  The route was on.

The Broncos, for the 3rd drive in a row, held the ball for longer than 4 minutes, but stalled thanks to a couple penalties.  This controlling time of possession thing was obviously not working.  Manning took the first snap after a punt, and found Stokley again for a 87 yard TD.  It's now 28-3 with 2 minutes to go in the first half.  After an INT by David Macklin and a nice return, Manning and the Colts took over at the Broncos 42.  Manning moved the offense down the field, and got a FG as time expired.  Halftime score:  31-3.  Total Domination.  Here are Manning's stats:

Comp Att Yds Y/A TD INT Rating
16 18 327 18.2
4
0
158.3

Yes, that is correct.  Manning's yards/attempt is 18.2 for the first half.  Simply unbelievable.  But he wasn't done yet.  The Colts blocked a FG to start the half, then Manning took his time with a 12 play, 64 yard drive that took 5:45, finding Reggie Wayne (he was starting to feel left out) for a 7 yard TD.  Dwight Freeney forced a fumble of Jake Plummer 2 plays into the Broncos drive, and Manning couldn't get TD pass #6 on third down, settling for a FG, making it 41-3, ending his day with 0:59 left in the third quarter.  For the second time in this series (and the second time in 2003), Manning threw for 5 TDs (or more) in 3 quarters, achieving a perfect passer rating.  His final stats:

Comp Att Yds Y/A TD INT Rating
22 26 377
14.5
5
0
158.3

This was the 4th time in NFL History a perfect passer rating was posted in the post season, and the first since 1983 (Bonus points for guessing without looking).  It hasn't happened since then either.  After the game, Stokley had this to say about Manning:

Every ball he threw was perfect

Coach Dungy said this:

“I hope people think this was a big game,” Dungy said. “We kept hearing about Peyton’s failure to win big games. I guess this was a big one.”

This game was a serious statement by Peyton Manning.  This is easily one of Manning's greatest games, but falls just short at #2 on our list.  He dismantled a team he couldn't do anything against just 2 weeks prior.  Vintage Peyton Manning.

Here is the NFL.com Gamebook:

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