Manning the MVP of His Biggest Victory

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By MICHAEL MAROT
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 4, 2007; 10:50 PM

MIAMI -- Peyton Manning answered the final question. Yes, he can win the big one _ and yes, he can do it in a big way, too. His career-long quest for a championship finally ended Sunday in Miami with an efficient performance against the Chicago Bears that added a Super Bowl MVP award to his long list of achievements.

The two-time NFL MVP was 25-of-38 for 247 yards and a touchdown pass, keeping the Bears on their heels with his play calling at the line of scrimmage as he rallied the Colts to a 29-17 victory.

"That's been our theme all year _ we've won as a team," Manning said. "No panic. We stayed calm throughout the entire game."

For more than a decade, Manning heard critics follow their acknowledgments of his greatness with this: He could only be remembered along with John Elway, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw if he won a Super Bowl.

Now, Manning can always remind them by flashing his championship ring.

"I don't think there's anything you can say now, other than this guy is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest players to ever play the game," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.

The doubts started when Manning was in college at Tennessee. He never beat rival Florida, and the year after he left, the Volunteers won a national championship.

In Indianapolis, the questions continued. When he started 0-3 in the postseason, people wondered if he'd ever win a playoff game. When he finally did that, people said he couldn't beat New England. When he did that, the critics contended he still couldn't win the biggest game of all.

He did that, too.

"Everybody did their part. We worked together," Manning said after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with one hand.

After taking about a quarter to figure out the Bears' defense, Manning dissected it like a surgeon _ carefully and aggressively. He methodically moved Indianapolis by masterfully finding open receivers, calling runs and converting third downs.

"I thought Peyton did a real good job of staying patient, and our run game in the second half gave us a big lift," Dungy said.

Manning threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with a Chicago defender draped around his waist. And even an early glitch on kickoff coverage that led to Devin Hester's 92-yard return for a touchdown to open the game couldn't derail the Colts.

Manning wouldn't let it.

He led them on a drive to a field goal, then gave them the lead when Dominic Rhodes scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. And Manning put the game away by setting up Adam Vinatieri for two second-half field goals. The defense took care of the rest with Kelvin Hayden's interception return for a touchdown.

But it was Manning who showed the world he could excel on the grandest stage in sports.

"I'm proud to be part of this team," he said. "It's hard to put it into words."


Mark Maske, NFL News Feed

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© 2007 The Associated Press

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