Maybe now, after routing the New England Patriots 40-21 on Monday night, they'll admit this could be a super season.
Manning shrugged off his 0-7 record at Foxborough with an intelligent dissection of the two-time defending champions. Aided by star running back Edgerrin James' 104 yards on 34 carries, and 100-yard receiving games from Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Manning kept the Colts perfect through eight games, the league's only undefeated team.
Instead of concentrating on this game the way much of the nation was, Manning spent his bye week watching brother Eli quarterback the Giants against Washington, then attending a Halloween party thrown by Eli. Peyton's getup: Elvis.
"Nobody recognized it was me, either," he said with a hardy laugh -- perhaps the first time he's ever smiled after a game in Massachusetts. "I guess my secret is out."
Whatever secret formula the Patriots held against Indianapolis wasn't evident this time. Manning believed jumping in front was crucial.
"We wanted to execute and get a lead on this team. We haven't had a lead on this team in a long time," Manning said. "The idea is to try to dictate to the defense."
While the Patriots have struggled mightily with injuries, an undependable running game and a leaky defense, their hex over the Colts was the major theme. But the Patriots (4-4) were the inferior team Monday.
"We got our butts kicked tonight," Brady said in a short statement before hustling out of a news conference.
New England still leads the AFC East, which doesn't put them within shouting distance of the Colts, who looked mature, savvy and resourceful, all elements they have lacked against the Pats in recent years.
The last time Indianapolis was here, in January, it managed all of three points in a divisional playoff game. This time, the Colts' vastly upgraded defense hit harder and forced the pace, while the offense was versatile and unflappable.
"I think we are more of a team and kind of feed off each other," Manning said. "It's definitely the best camaraderie we've had since I've been here eight years."
Manning was 28-of-37 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He guided the Colts, who are 5-0 on the road, to scores on seven of eight possessions. Indy didn't punt until the final two minutes and scored its most points ever against the Patriots.
The Colts, who have downplayed their great start this season, were so skillful this night they even forced Bill Belichick into some desperate measures. After Daniel Graham turned a tight end screen into a 31-yard touchdown midway in the third quarter, New England's coach ordered an onside kick. It was recovered by the Colt's Joseph Jefferson, who advanced it to the Patriots 22.
"It's pitiful. It's embarrassing," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "We've got to get it right and we've got to get it right fast.
"They showed why they're pretty much the best team in the league."
Vanderjagt added a 20-yard field goal before Manning capped it with an on-the-run throw that descended directly into Harrison's hands in the end zone despite tight coverage by Asante Samuel.
Harrison had nine catches for 128 yards and Wayne had nine for 124. The Colts held the ball for 36:41.
The offensive showcase began immediately when Manning hit Harrison for 48 yards, then threw him a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone over Samuel for a 1-yard touchdown.
"That play to Marvin was really big," Manning said.
New England tied it on a 16-yard TD catch by Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, but James' 2-yard run made it 14-7.
Nearing the end of the half, New England unnerved Manning for perhaps the only time with a blitz. Manning unwisely threw off his back foot to avoid a sack and Mike Vrabel picked it off at the Patriots 47.
Using the hurry-up offense to perfection, Manning took up nearly all the remaining 2:07 on a nine-play, 73-yard drive. He capped it by hitting Wayne with a precise pass into the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD just nine seconds before halftime, making it 21-7.
After New England held the ball a mere 29 seconds after the second-half kickoff, Manning engineered an 11-play, 60-yard series highlighted by the two-time MVP's 18-yard scramble on third-and-5. Dominic Rhodes ran in from the 4.
Not even the second game for Tedy Bruschi, New England's Pro Bowl linebacker returning from a mild stroke, could help the Patriots this night. Not against a Colts team that no longer can play it low-key.
- The win made Colts coach Tony Dungy 51-0 when his team has led by at least 14 points.
- Brady lost to the Colts for the first time in seven meetings. He finished 22-of-33 for 265 yards.