The title: The Quarterback Clinic, by Peyton Manning.
|Peyton Manning makes all the right calls against the Eagles. (Getty Images)|
He was perfect.
The passer rating says so. In the NFL's complex system, 158.3 is perfect. Manning's was just that after he completed 18 of 23 passes for 319 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
But this was about more than numbers. What makes it even more impressive is Manning did most of the damage at the line of scrimmage. He was coach, quarterback and, most of all, assassin.
In a league and an era where many quarterbacks are restricted in what they can do at the line, Manning has total freedom. He is an extension of innovative offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
Now we know why. Facing a blitz-happy Philadelphia defense, Manning seemed to have the right call at the right time nearly all of the time. They blitzed, he hit them with a big passing play. They played soft, he checked to the right run play.
"I needed one of these," Manning said.
Needed it because after three consecutive losses, there was actually heat on Manning in Indianapolis. Some were questioning whether he was trying to do too much. Was he being too smart for this young Colts offense, causing more harm than good?
"It's silly," tackle Adam Meadows said. "It's extremely silly."
Of course it is. Manning is at his best at the line, where the freedom to change out of plays makes him among the most dangerous passers in the league.
"I don't know what you can say about the quarterback," Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. "We worked on their blitzes all week, and we tried to give him looks, but you can't simulate it. We just said, 'Hey, you'll be wrong sometime and they'll get you.' They never got him. He saw every single one, went to the right guy, set things up, called the running game the right way, just an unbelievable performance."
It helped that he had a running game. Because of injuries, the Colts were down to rookie James Mungro, a kid who grew up as an Eagles fan outside of Philadelphia but a guy who was cut this summer by the lowly Lions.
To expect Mungro to liven up the running game when others before him, including now-injured Edgerrin James, had not was asking a lot. But Mungro ripped off a 49-yard run on his first official carry to send a message to the Eagles defense.
The Colts were not going to be one-dimensional. Even though Mungro fumbled inside the 5 later on that drive, it was clear that he had the speed and power to make things happen.
"They came in playing us to stop the pass," Manning said. "If I was playing us, I'd play us to stop the pass, too."
When Mungro got the running game going, it forced the Eagles to change the way they played in the secondary. Unable to simply double the receivers, Philadelphia used more blitz and man coverage.
Manning ate it alive.
He threw touchdown passes of 57 and 43 yards to Marvin Harrison and 27 yards to Reggie Wayne. All three came on audibles.
The first one to Harrison, the 57-yarder, was vintage Manning. In the huddle, he had two plays called. One was a run if the Eagles were in zone coverage. The other was a pass if they showed blitz and man coverage.
When they showed blitz, Manning checked to the pass. He took the snap, pump faked the corner, and with two defenders ready to deliver a shot, he fired a strike to Harrison who had beaten Troy Vincent. Manning never saw the ball being caught, ending up on his back.
"I still got hit, so didn't know if I had enough on the ball," Manning said.
He did, all day long.
Mungro finished with 114 yards on 28 carries, making him a wonderful feel-good story of the day. Harrison had six catches for 137 yards, and Wayne had six for 121. It's only the third time in Colts history they've had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers.
But the story Sunday was the quarterback play. While Manning was perfect, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was far from it. He finished 27-of-47 for 281 yards, but he seemed as inaccurate as he has been this year.
A Colts defense that is improving each week was able to shut down the Eagles' outside receivers, forcing a lot of throws underneath. That wasn't going to keep up with Manning.
Manning is a throwback to the days when quarterbacks were more than just messengers for their coaches, running the plays called. He is a master of understanding defenses, spending hours each week watching film and picking up tendencies.
When he wasn't checking to a new play Sunday -- which he said he did 50 percent of the time -- Manning was checking a run to a different side. If a run was called left, he'd switch it to the right if he felt that was the best way to run it.
"I'm busy at the line of scrimmage," Manning said.
It's like watching a maestro lead an orchestra, his hands flailing all over the place, his hand signals sometimes meaning a very important thing and other times meaning absolutely nothing.
It is truly an art, one that is becoming lost in the NFL.
They say quarterbacks are no longer what they used to be. They are now simply robots, programmed to perform the requests of the coach. Long gone are the days of the quarterback/play-callers, when a mind was every bit as important as an arm.
It's not for everyone, though. It takes special talent, a special feel for the game. Manning's field savvy is as good as any quarterback's in the league. There are a handful of guys who can handle that load at the line, but there are none who can do it any better than Manning did Sunday.
"It was a lot of the right calls at the right time," Manning said.
Simply put, it was a clinic.
Where can you get that video?