Manning, Colts justify late-season rest with 20-3 playoff victory over Ravens

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- So much for the notion that rest would lead to rust for the Indianapolis Colts. The playoffs began for the Colts with them getting the same result that they had gotten in those regular season games that mattered to them, as the passing of quarterback Peyton Manning carried them to a 20-3 triumph over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC semifinal Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The top-seeded Colts might not have been at their absolute sharpest, but they did what needed to be done. They took control of the game when Manning, trying to add a second career Super Bowl title to the record fourth NFL most valuable player award that he already has secured this season, threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne in the final two minutes of the first half.

That gave the Colts a 17-3 lead and they coasted from there while the sixth-seeded Ravens were unable to sustain anything on offense and committed a series of costly mistakes.

"I think obviously being healthy was important," Manning said. "We had a lot of guys back. ..... I thought we came out sharp on both sides of the ball and from the get-go really set the tempo of the game."

The Colts will host the AFC championship game next weekend against the winner of Sunday's game in San Diego between the second-seeded Chargers and the fifth-seeded New York Jets. The debate about whether the Colts did the right thing by resting players late in the regular season is likely to be a fading memory by then.

"You could see it in practice," Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said. "We practiced extremely well. It was not a surprise that we were clicking fairly well. ..... I think we played well. If the circumstances had forced us to do something else, I think this team has been able to do well in different circumstances."

Manning completed 30 of 44 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Place kicker Matt Stover added a pair of field goals, and the Indianapolis defense did its part. Ravens tailback Ray Rice ran for only 67 yards and lost a fumble, and quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions in an 20-for-35, 189-yard passing performance.

"They're a spread offense and a speed defense," Rice said. "They're different. We're not used to that. We're a power football team. Give them credit. Their defense gets overlooked sometimes because their offense is so good."

Even when the Ravens did something right, it turned out wrong. Safety Ed Reed lost a fumble on his return of a third-quarter interception, then had another interception negated by a penalty.

The Colts passed on their chance to chase history when Caldwell, their first-year coach, sat down Manning and other key players in the second half of the second-to-last game of the regular season against the Jets. The Colts lost a lead and suffered their first defeat of the season, then had to defend themselves against the criticism that came their way. Team President Bill Polian said at the time that he was surprised by the negative reaction of the club's fans, and he and Caldwell said they were doing what they thought was best to pursue a Super Bowl title.

The problem was that the approach didn't work for the Colts in the past under Caldwell's predecessor, Tony Dungy. The Colts lost the previous three times they had a first-round playoff bye with Manning as their quarterback. Their lone Super Bowl triumph under Dungy came in a season in which they were forced to play a first-round postseason game at home and then went on the road to win an AFC semifinal at Baltimore.

This time, Caldwell had his offensive and defensive starters practice against one another during the Colts' playoff bye week in an attempt to keep his players sharp.

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