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Peyton Manning, whose big-game failures seemed sure to haunt him through another offseason, rallied the Colts from an 18-point deficit to an improbable 38-34 victory against nemesis Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published January 22, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS - Long-suffering quarterback Peyton Manning is going to the Super Bowl.
And he's taking Tony Dungy with him.
Manning, whose big-game failures seemed sure to haunt him through another offseason, rallied the Colts from an 18-point deficit to an improbable 38-34 victory against nemesis Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Forget about commercials.
This was high drama.
"It's certainly not the situation you want, to be here at home being down 21-3," Manning said. "But Coach Dungy, like he did all season, kept us calm. We took it one series and a time and came up with a great win."
The first 40 editions of the Super Bowl were played without an African-American head coach. But Super Bowl XLI will have two: Dungy and his protege, Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"I'm very proud to represent African-American coaches," Dungy said. "I'm so proud of Lovie. But this is about Indianapolis and the Colts and our team, and we're excited about that."
For a half, it looked for all the world like Manning, the statistical wizard of his generation, would again fall short in a defining moment. He was sacked. He was intercepted.
He was beaten.
Apparently, he was tired of having dirt kicked in his face after twice being eliminated from the playoffs by the Patriots in the previous three seasons.
Despite every indication the Patriots were on their way to a fourth Super Bowl appearance in six seasons, Manning defied history - his and Brady's - to engineer the biggest comeback in AFC title-game history.
Indy tied it at 21.
Trailing 34-31 with 2:17 to play, Manning led a seven-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in rookie running back Joseph Addai's 3-yard run with one minute left.
It was the first time Indianapolis led.
It was up to the Colts' much-maligned defense to deny Brady a seventh game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of a playoff game since 2001. When Marlin Jackson intercepted Brady at the Indianapolis 35-yard line with 16 seconds left, it set off a wild celebration at the RCA Dome.
"It certainly wasn't perfect," Dungy said. "We had some glitches. But I was so proud of the way our guys fought. I was very happy for Peyton. He had to bring us from behind three or four times. It was fitting. Our team did it the hard way all season."
Manning's sixth interception in three playoff games was returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Asante Samuel for a 21-3 New England lead with 9:25 left in the second quarter. When the Colts were forced to settle for a 26-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the first half, there was little reason to expect a rousing comeback.
But from that point on, Manning was masterful in sending Brady to his second defeat in 14 playoff games. Manning completed 14 of 23 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown in the second half to finish with 359 yards. Really, he could have done without the drama.
"I would have taken 35-0, too," Manning said. "You certainly don't envision getting down 21-3 to the New England Patriots. Samuel made a good play on the interception, and once he scored the touchdown, it's just that double whammy.
"From that point on I felt like I wanted to make up seven points somewhere. I really didn't do it until the very end. It was such a methodical method we used to chip away at the lead."
[Last modified January 22, 2007, 00:29:25]