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Manning aces driving test First playoff winner recalls Elway's march

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning is ever the student of NFL history and recently watched a television show on John Elway's famous 98-yard drive to get Denver into overtime in their AFC Championship Game victory in January 1987.

"It's funny, I watched that the other day," Manning said. "You never get tired of seeing it. That was 20 years ago, I guess. That one has always been special to me to watch, and you always kind of get a good feeling when you see it."

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback now has his own historic drive to relish for years to come. It wasn't as long as the one that helped put the Denver Broncos and Elway in his first Super Bowl, but it produced a victory that was every bit as dramatic.

Manning's 80-yard march to the winning touchdown in Sunday's 38-34 AFC Championship Game victory over New England immediately goes to the top of his remarkable NFL resume. The drive capped the 29th comeback that Manning has led in the fourth quarter or overtime in his nine-year career. But it was his first in the playoffs.

It was capped with a 3-yard touchdown run by Joseph Addai with 1:00 left, which put the Colts into Super Bowl XLI in Miami on Feb. 4.

"Those are situations that you have dreams about as a kid, and it's always nice when you can go out there and execute and do it," Manning said.

After rallying from a 21-3 deficit to a 21-21 tie, the Colts fell behind three more times in the second half, the last by 34-31 after a 43-yard Patriots field goal with 3:49 left.

With 2:17 left in the game, after an exchange of possessions, the Colts got the ball at their own 20-yard line.

"There was no doubt in anybody's mind that we were going to take the football and we were going to score," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Once our defense stopped them [and forced a punt], I think we all felt good that Peyton was going to drive us."

For the record, there was at least one Colt who had a shred of doubt about the outcome.

"I said a little prayer there on that last drive," Manning said. "I don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I said a little prayer there."

On the first play, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for an 11-yard gain. On the second he threw incomplete over the short middle for Bryan Fletcher.

Fletcher, a third-stringer in his second NFL season, was on the field due to an injury to No. 2 tight end Ben Utecht. He came back to the huddle with a suggestion for Manning, and caught a 32-yard pass to the Patriots' 37 on the next play.

"This is scary to say this publicly because who knows where his ego will go from here, but that was his call," Manning said of Fletcher, who caught 18 passes during the season. "He actually called two plays in a row. The play before that we kind of threw a little side route, and 52 [Pats linebacker Eric Alexander] made a break on it. [Fletcher] said, 'Give me the corner route on that play.' "

"We called the appropriate play to get him on the corner route," Manning said. "They were really playing man to man. Once again, the middle safety was going over to the right side to double Marvin Harrison."

Manning made a perfect throw to the left sideline just before pressure got to him in the pocket.

"That was a huge play because once you get there, you're in sure field-goal range," Manning said.

A 14-yard juggling catch by Wayne followed, and the Colts tacked on 12 yards for a roughing-the-passer penalty on New England. Three plays later, Addai ran up the middle for the touchdown.

Manning said he thought the Colts' no-huddle offense tired the Patriots' defense in the second half. Indianapolis held the ball for 17:29 and rolled up 311 yards in the second half.

"I felt the tempo that we set was important," he said. "They had a lot of guys substituting. They had some guys cramping at times. That was the tempo we wanted to create. We can kind of get into that rhythm and get some consecutive first downs. That was important."

"I just think it's great for him to get to the Super Bowl with a drive like that," Dungy said of Manning.

Asked if he had authored a worthy sequel to Elway's signature moment -- known as The Drive -- Manning said, "I'm not comparing what we just did to that . . . but I guess that sounds pretty good."

Manning bruised his thumb on his throwing hand late in the game, but X-rays found no broken bones and he's expected to start against the Bears, Colts owner Jim Irsay told the Associated Press on Monday night.


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