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MANNING GIVES BILLS AN EDUCATION

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the final minute was winding down on Peyton Manning's offensive masterpiece Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback was standing at the line of scrimmage counting the seconds and deciding whether he needed to snap the ball for a final play.

Bills defensive end Phil Hansen shouted across the line, "Do you have a Ph.D. in mathematics, too?"

Manning replied, "Do you think we should snap it again?"

It was the only time all day Manning searched for an answer from the Bills' defense.

Manning conducted a clinic titled "How to Attack a Blitzing Defense" in the Colts' 42-26 victory over the Buffalo Bills at the RCA Dome.

The Colts' QB did more skewering, slicing and dicing in three hours than Emeril Lagasse does in a week.

In one dizzying nine-minute span of the first half, Manning produced three touchdowns on six offensive plays. In dropping to 0-2, the Bills were filleted for 555 yards, the third-most yards allowed in team history. Manning hit 23 of 29 passes for 421 yards.

It was a perfect convergence of great offense and bad defense. And it left the young Bills team stunned.

"He's a great quarterback," Hansen said. "He has a Ph.D. in offense."

"We did not do our jobs as a defensive team," linebacker Keith Newman said. "That's why you saw guys wide open. . . . We didn't read keys, and when you don't read keys, big plays happen."

"They did whatever they wanted to do," Bills quarterback Rob Johnson said. "I haven't seen in all my years of playing a game like that. . . . It seemed like college numbers they were putting up."

The Bills' attacking defense simply wasn't ready to play the kind of error-free football that's required to contain the Colts.

The previous two seasons the Bills took a straight-up defensive approach against the Colts. They played two deep safeties and tried to stop Colts back Edgerrin James with the front seven. But the Bills don't have the defensive horses they used to have. Their front seven needs a safety coming up as the eighth man to support the run against a great back like James.

Coach Gregg Williams and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray love that philosophy. But it requires tight one-on-one coverage, no blown assignments and a good pass rush.

The Bills got none of the three.

On the Colts' third possession, Manning fooled Newman with a run fake and hit wide-open tight end Ken Dilger for a 44-yard gain. That led to a James TD run that tied the game, 7-7.

On the next drive, the Bills put eight men at the line of scrimmage, and the Colts ran a flea-flicker. James took a handoff and pitched back to Manning, who threw a 60-yard TD pass to Jerome Pathon.

"He got me," free safety Keion Carpenter said. "I needed to stay back and be more disciplined in my coverage. You're out there trying to play football, you want to be aggressive and help your teammates, but you still have a job to do."

The Bills tied it, 14-14, with a nice TD drive, but it took Manning just two plays to score again.

On first-and-10 from the Bills' 39, Gray sent seven rushers at Manning, but he was ready. James stayed in to block. Manning took three steps back, stopped and pump-faked for Harrison. Then Manning took three more steps back and threw a strike to Harrison, who had easily blown by Antoine Winfield. The rush never got near the QB.

"It was an all-out blitz," Winfield said. "I'm sitting there thinking it was going to be a quick pass. . . . That's on me. He ran a fade. I still shoulda been there."

Two minutes later the Colts intercepted an underthrown Johnson pass, and again it took Manning two plays to get to the end zone.

This time he faked a run to James and hit Harrison on another 39-yard TD to make it 28-14.

"That was just me," Carpenter said. "As I was backpedaling, instead of keeping my inside leverage, I let Marvin get inside of me. With a guy like that who's running full speed at you, you can't do that. No if, ands or butts. I've got to make that happen."

Manning closed the first half with a fifth straight TD drive, marching the Colts 80 yards. James gained 62 of them, and it appeared safety Travares Tillman got caught underneath on Manning's easy 7-yard TD pass to Harrison.

In all, the Colts scored on six straight possessions. It was an awesome display, especially since the Bills' defense forced turnovers on the Colts' first two drives. Nate Clements returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown to open the game, and Winfield forced a Dilger fumble one minute later.

"They started running that muddle-huddle (a slow no-huddle) and we actually gave (Manning) a few problems there," Hansen said. "We were giving him different fronts, and he was a little confused the first couple series.

"But then he went to a different cadence. He'd get under center and say, 'Down, Set, HUT-HUT.' So we'd jump out of our defense and get into the defense we were supposed to be in. And then he'd stand up and say, 'OK, I've got you where you're going to be. Now I can call a play.' So it became a cat-and-mouse game.

"The next time we'd start out in the defense we were going to be in, let him do his HUT-HUT, move to something else, and then move back to the real defense. We were hoping he wouldn't have enough time to get into the right play. But he'd line up with 17 seconds left on the play clock. He wouldn't even call a play sometimes. He'd just stand up there and look around.

"Whew. He can tear you apart."
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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