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AFC playoff notebook

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Published January 16, 2004

COLTS: It seems laughable that two weeks ago people wondered why Peyton Manning couldn't win a big game.

"They've been talking about that all playoffs," said receiver Reggie Wayne, one of Manning's favorite targets. " "Peyton Manning and the Colts have a monkey on their backs.' Hopefully he can shut up some of those critics with his performance so far."

In his first two games of the playoffs, Manning was 22-for-26, 377 yards, five touchdowns against Denver, followed by 22-for-30, 304 yards and three touchdowns at Kansas City. He hasn't thrown an interception.

Manning is, as they say, in the zone.

"The zone ... that's too deep for me," Manning said. "I'm just a football player. I'm hot.

"Forgive me when I say "I.' We're hot."

The Patriots plan to pressure Manning, but don't pretend to be able understand his no-huddle mannerisms. He bounces around, backs up, stomps forward, barks orders even the safeties can hear, then mutters into his palm, Secret-Service style.

"It's just constant communication with his linemen, with his tight ends, with receivers and running backs," says Tedy Bruschi, the linebacker who calls much of New England's defensive signals. "Some of it is real and some of it isn't."

The secret, Bruschi says, is to not guess. He recalls crouching behind a lineman against the Jets, not sure if Chad Pennington could see him, then leaping high for an interception. The element of surprise works both ways.

"As hot as Peyton is," Patriots lineman Richard Seymour said, "he doesn't have to say anything and they can still get the ball in the end zone. It's like that offense knows what's coming without hearing a word."

PATRIOTS: It is supposed to be in the 20s or low 30s, perhaps with snow, Sunday. "That's better for me," said running back Antowain Smith, who with Kevin Faulk gives New England a good combination of power and speed. Smith runs over defenders, Faulk makes them miss. "They are more of a tandem - a 1-2 punch," Colts linebacker Marcus Washington said. "Smith is more of a north-and-south guy, while Faulk is more of a cutback guy."

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