"I am hot right now, we're hot as an offense," Manning said Sunday after picking apart the Kansas City Chiefs with 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-31 victory that put the Indianapolis Colts into the AFC title game.
That would be in Foxboro, Mass., against the NFL's best team, the Patriots. New England has won 13 consecutive games and certainly will present a tougher challenge defensively for the Colts.
"Right now, I'll go to Afghanistan," said running back Edgerrin James, who has said he wanted to avoid the cold of New England. "We're playing for the Super Bowl."
In making Kansas City's defense look like a sieve, Manning was 22-for-30. He took the Colts (14-4) to scores on six of their first seven drives and, including last week's 41-10 victory over Denver, is 44-for-56 in the postseason for 681 yards and eight touchdowns.
"He is the master," defensive end Eric Hicks said. "That was an amazing performance. I never would have thought a quarterback would play two games in a row like that.
"They took us behind the woodshed and just beat us. It was embarrassing."
Punter Hunter Smith, who did not kick last week, again wasn't needed. Manning, James (24 rushes for 125 yards) and Reggie Wayne (six catches, 83 yards) made sure of that.
It was the first time in NFL history there were no punts in a playoff game, mostly because Indianapolis' defense wasn't any more efficient. All-Pro Priest Holmes, who set an NFL record with 27 touchdowns this season (all on the ground), dived in from the 1 for two scores. Dante Hall, also an NFL record-setter this season, had a TD on a 92-yard kickoff runback.
In all, the Colts gained 434 yards and the Chiefs' 408. The difference was that Manning converted every big play.
"He doesn't throw an inaccurate ball," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. "Every pass is where it should be."
James had scoring runs of 1 and 11 yards and Mike Vanderjagt hit his 40th straight field goal this season, from 45 yards.
That offset the brilliance of Kansas City's offense, and Holmes setting a franchise playoff record with 176 yards rushing.
And so the Chiefs' 13-3 regular season ended with a first-round playoff loss at home -- where they were unbeaten in 2003 -- for the third consecutive postseason; it also happened in 1995 and '97. They had won 13 straight at Arrowhead.
Their Missouri brethren, the St. Louis Rams, also fell in a first-round playoff game and, like the Chiefs, also were unbeaten at home.
Kansas City, losers of seven in a row to the Colts, got unlucky at the start of the second half. Holmes broke free for a 48-yard run, but fumbled when hit by David Macklin at the Colts' 22 and Macklin recovered.
Manning promptly guided the Colts downfield. Only Kansas City's first big defensive play of the game -- Shawn Barber throwing to James for a 5-yard loss -- slowed the juggernaut.
Vanderjagt's 45-yard field goal made it 24-10.
Holmes atoned by scoring from the 1 after a 24-yard sprint. Manning merely shrugged and engineered a 64-yard drive capped by a 19-yard pass to Wayne.
If Indy was feeling comfortable, though, it was shaken 13 seconds later when Hall streaked 92 yards. The All-Pro, who had kick returns for scores in four consecutive regular-season games, got the first in Chiefs playoff history.
"You just saw a lot of hard work go to waste," Hall said. "Before we start pointing our finger at the defense, I think we should tip our cap to Peyton Manning."
As could be expected from the Colts' proficient offense, they scored immediately. Manning hit Stokley down the middle for a 29-yard touchdown to finish a 70-yard drive, indicating early that Kansas City's struggling defense was in for a long afternoon.
And, not surprisingly, the Chiefs responded with a 73-yard drive during which Holmes had 44 yards on seven carries. Morten Andersen kicked a 22-yard field goal.
The Colts resumed the attack, moving 76 yards on six plays, with Manning hitting Marvin Harrison on a 38-yard pass. James surged through a huge hole into the end zone for a 14-3 lead.
Back came Kansas City, converting three third downs before Hall slipped free near the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, his first postseason reception and the first playoff TD throw of Trent Green's career.
Manning's second touchdown pass, a 2-yarder to seldom-used fullback Lopienski completed a 71-yard drive to make it 21-10. Again, the Chiefs never looked capable of stopping the Colts.
Not that Indianapolis was any stauncher defensively. Again, Kansas City marched downfield, only to have Tony Gonzalez's 27-yard touchdown reception negated by a suspect offensive interference call. The usually dependable Andersen botched a 31-yard field goal.
- Hall had 208 yards on seven returns.
- Lopienski's TD was the first time the rookie touched the ball in the NFL.
- Andersen's last miss from inside the 40 was in 2001.
- The crowd of 79,159 was the Chiefs' biggest for a playoff game.
The Associated Press News Service
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