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MONDAY, JANUARY 22, 2007
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Peyton’s place is in Super Bowl
Prolific quarterback finally gets shot at title

By Eddie Pells
Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — A comeback, a drive, a legacy. And, yes — finally — Peyton Manning gets his Super Bowl trip. So does Tony Dungy.

Football’s most prolific quarterback put on a show for the ages Sunday, rallying the Indianapolis Colts from 18 points down and driving them 80 yards for the winning score in a wildly entertaining 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots.

In his nine years in the league, Manning has never played in a game like this AFC championship contest. He threw for 349 yards and one touchdown and brought his team back from a 21-3 deficit, the biggest comeback in conference title-game history.

Joseph Addai capped Manning’s late drive with the winning score, a 3-yard run with 1 minute left to help the Colts complete the rally and send Dungy to his first Super Bowl — and a very special one.

The Colts coach will face the Chicago Bears and his good friend Lovie Smith in Miami in two weeks. Together they are the first black coaches to make the Super Bowl in its 41 years.

“It means a lot,” Dungy said. “I’m very proud to be representing African-Americans. I’m very proud of Lovie.”

Manning, meantime, wouldn’t concede that a monster weight was lifted off his shoulders.

“I don’t get into monkeys and vindication,” he said. “I don’t play that card. I know how hard I worked this season, I know how hard I worked this week. It’s always nice when you can take the hard work, put it to use and come away with a win.”

But after Indy’s last touchdown, Manning was on the sideline, his head down — he couldn’t bear to watch. New England’s Tom Brady — he of the three Super Bowl rings — threw an interception to Marlin Jackson and the RCA Dome crowd went wild.

“I said a little prayer 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.”

Not only was it a win for Manning, the All-Pro, All-Everything son of Archie, it was a riveting, back-and-forth showcase of two of the NFL’s best teams, best quarterbacks, and yet another example of why football is America’s favorite sport.

“It could still be, ‘Can he win a Super Bowl?’ and then if he does, everyone will shut up,” Dungy said. “But Peyton’s a great player, and anyone who doesn’t know that doesn’t know much about football.”

It was anything but a by-the-book game, and that started becoming obvious when New England left guard Logan Mankins opened the scoring by pouncing on a fumbled handoff between Brady and Laurence Maroney that squirted into the Indy end zone midway through the first quarter.

It got worse from there for Manning, who telegraphed a throw to the sideline that Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel snatched and took 39 yards into the end zone for a 21-3 lead.

Then, the game plan changed because it had to, and the game morphed from another Manning meltdown into something much more.

He led the Colts on an 80-yard drive late in the first half for a field goal to make it 21-6. In the third quarter, he was at his cruel best, dissecting an exhausted Patriots defense for a pair of long drives and scores.

The first came on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The second was capped by a 1-yard pass to Dan Klecko, a defensive tackle who came in as a supposed decoy at the goal line. A circus catch by Marvin Harrison for the 2-point conversion tied the game at 21.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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