INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 19 -- The stage was set perfectly for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to make history on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens. An adoring crowd of 57,240 filled the RCA Dome and a national television audience watched at home as Manning continued his pursuit of Dan Marino's 20-year-old record for touchdown passes in a season.
Manning needed to throw three touchdowns -- an average day's work, really -- to surpass Marino's mark of 48 touchdowns, but he threw only one in the Colts' 20-10 win over Baltimore. Manning will try again next week against San Diego.
The record stands for another week, but the Colts' Peyton Manning endangers the Ravens' postseason hopes with a 20-10 win on Sunday.
The fact that the Ravens spoiled "Extra Special Peyton Night" (according to several handmade signs in the crowd) was little consolation. Baltimore would have rather had the win.
The Ravens entered Sunday night's game knowing that a victory would put them one game ahead of their closest rival for the final AFC wild-card spot. The loss, however, dropped Baltimore (8-6) into a tie with Denver, Jacksonville and Buffalo (all 8-6). The Jaguars have the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams, with games against Houston (6-8) and Oakland (5-9), while the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh (13-1) and then host Miami (2-11).
Through the first 13 games, Manning had more touchdown passes than every other team had total touchdowns, except for Kansas City (50). But the Colts had faced only two teams with defenses ranked among the top half of the league, and those two teams -- New England and Jacksonville -- handed Indianapolis (11-3) two of its three losses.
Baltimore figured to be a good test for the AFC South champion; the Ravens ranked sixth in the league in total defense and were giving up an average of only 184.9 yards through the air. Only 10 touchdown passes had been thrown against Baltimore -- which has two Pro Bowlers (Chris McAlister and Ed Reed) and one likely future Hall of Famer (Deion Sanders) in its secondary -- in the first 13 games.
Manning completed 20 of 33 passes for 249 yards. He did not throw multiple touchdown passes for the first time this season, breaking his league-record streak of 13 consecutive games with two or more touchdown passes. He did surpass 4,000 yards for the season, marking the sixth straight year he has done so.
Manning was uncharacteristically flat in the first half; he completed only 53 percent of his passes (well under his average of 68.9 percent) for 133 yards. He took two shots into the end zone on the Colts' first drive, but the first one was knocked down by Baltimore's Chad Williams, and the second one zipped by Marcus Pollard and nearly into the arms of safety Will Demps. Indianapolis settled for a 24-yard Mike Vanderjagt field goal.
But Manning was sharp to open up the second half. On their first possession, he led the Colts on a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive in which he completed all five of his throws for 57 yards. He found a wide open Marvin Harrison -- who completely turned around McAlister -- for a 29-yard touchdown pass, Manning's 47th of the year. Indianapolis led, 13-3.
The Ravens needed to get sterling performances out of their offense and special teams to help counteract Manning and the Colts, but they made costly mistakes on both fronts. Second-year quarterback Kyle Boller threw two interceptions, after throwing only three in his previous seven games. The second one was returned 71 yards by Cato June (Anacostia High); June stepped out at the four-yard line with 59 seconds left in the game. Manning could've taken a few shots at the end zone, but he took a knee instead, drawing boos from the crowd.
As for special teams, guard Bennie Anderson was shoved back by Larry Tripplett on Matt Stover's third-quarter 31-yard field goal attempt, and Stover put the kick into Anderson's back. Indianapolis's Van Hutchins scooped up the ball and returned it 24 yards, which put the ball on the Baltimore 31. From there, the Colts needed five plays to score, this time on a three-yard run by Edgerrin James, and they took a 20-3 lead with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
Baltimore managed 354 yards of total offense. Running back Jamal Lewis said earlier in the week that the right ankle that caused him to miss two games was still aching and that he was having trouble making cuts, but that hardly appeared to be the case on the fast turf on Sunday. He rushed for 130 yards on 20 carries. His 47-yard run at the very end of the first quarter -- a classic Lewis rush, in which he exploded through the line and ran over a smaller defensive back -- set up the Ravens' only score of the first half, a 42-yard field goal from Stover.
Boller completed 19 of 40 passes for 210 yards, and threw for one touchdown, a 13-yard pass to Todd Heap that brought the Ravens to within 10, 20-10, with 12 minutes 50 seconds left in the game.
Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney harassed Boller throughout the game, which was surprising considering the league's sack leader was squared off against mammoth Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Freeney had two sacks, including an especially damaging one on third and nine from the Indianapolis 26 late in the second half. Freeney flew in untouched and nailed Boller for a nine-yard loss, taking the Ravens out of field goal range. Baltimore Coach Brian Billick was livid on the sideline.
At the end of the first half, safety Mike Doss intercepted Boller's poorly thrown pass at his own 22 and then returned it down the sideline to the Baltimore 46. Thirteen seconds remained until halftime, more than enough time for Manning to do something. He connected with Pollard for 31 yards down the middle, and Vanderjagt made a 33-yard field goal with one second left on the clock to give the Colts a 6-3 halftime lead.
Ravens Note: Linebacker Ray Lewis left the game briefly in the first quarter because of a sprained wrist; he returned and played the rest of the game.