He used the pass to create running lanes, mystified the Houston defense with gashing plays, wore down the Texans with a steady repertoire of no-huddle offense and got his teammates playing at full throttle.
This is how Manning believes Indianapolis can win. The master of efficiency produced five straight scoring drives, twice erasing Houston leads, and led the Colts to a 33-27 victory.
"We're a no-huddle team and we won because we never took our foot off the gas," Manning said. "That was nice today. All along, we've said that's what we wanted to do, be a balanced team."
But that's not how the Colts (6-4) had played this season.
As they struggled in close games, Manning's timing appeared to be off, the running game was nonexistent and the mistakes piled up. Some questioned whether the rest of the league, or age, had caught up to the Colts' offense.
Not Sunday, when Manning had an answer for everything.
He finished 30-of-46 for 320 yards with two touchdowns and magnificently mixed plays in the second half when Houston (3-7) couldn't keep pace with the surging Colts.
Indy's supporting cast reverted to form, too. Joseph Addai ran for 105 yards and one TD, his first 100-yard day since November 2007. Marvin Harrison caught nine passes for 77 yards and another score and Indy produced a season-high 474 yards in its third straight victory.
"Man, I'm tired," Addai said. "It gets frustrating, at times, but you've got to stick with it and the biggest thing was that we got the win."
The combination flummoxed Houston's defense, which wasted Steve Slaton's best day of the season. Slaton ran 14 times for 156 yards, breaking the franchise's single-game rookie record, and he scored on a 71-yard run, the longest in team history. But it wasn't enough for the Texans (3-7) to avoid a third straight loss.
Nor could they deal the five-time AFC South champions another blow. Rather, Manning kept Indy near the top of a muddled mass battling for the AFC's two wild-card spots.
"This week, it was our offense that kind of saved us in the second half with those long drives and touchdowns," coach Tony Dungy said.
Manning turned the game in the second half when he led the Colts on TD drives of 81, 80 and 73 yards.
And when he had to run out the clock, Manning nearly did that, too, consuming more than seven minutes after Ahman Green's second scoring run got Houston within 30-27 with 8:54 left.
"The bottom line is we didn't stop them," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, referring to his run defense. "They said, `If they want us to run it, we'll run it.' So a credit to Peyton and their football team for their patience."
After settling for three first-half field goals, Manning threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Addai to give Indy a 16-13 lead.
Three plays later, Slaton hit a hole in the middle of the line at full speed, evaded Melvin Bullitt's tackle in the secondary and outran two Indy defenders for the long TD run that gave Houston a 20-16 lead. Bullitt started in place of the injured Bob Sanders.
Manning was just warming up.
After three completions of at least 11 yards on the next series, Addai ran 7 yards for a score that put Indy ahead 23-20. Manning followed that with a nifty 10-yard TD pass to Harrison, who wrestled the ball away from DeMarcus Faggins on his inside shoulder and fell into the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Manning's time-consuming final drive set up Adam Vinatieri for his fourth field goal of the day.
Houston still had a chance to rally. But in hurry-up mode and out of timeouts, Sage Rosenfels was picked off by Bullitt with 38 seconds left to seal it.
"You don't want to play the hurry-up, two-minute game against Peyton because he'll win that game against every team in the NFL," Rosenfels said. "You want to try to slow the game, which we did. But once they get that lead on you, it makes it more difficult."
- Manning passed Fran Tarkenton for seventh on the NFL's career completions list. Tarkenton had 3,686 completions; Manning now has 3,702.
- Green finished with nine carries for 17 yards, surpassing the 9,000-yard mark in his career.
- Harrison passed Jim Brown for ninth on the NFL touchdowns list.
- The Colts lost backup cornerback Nick Graham with a left ankle injury in the first half. Dungy said X-rays were negative.