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Manning's maturity helps Colts develop

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000


As impressive as Peyton Manning's performance was on Monday night, he realizes the 440 yards he threw for against Jacksonville will be forgotten if the success doesn't continue today against Buffalo.

The matchup pits the Colts, the AFC's top-ranked offense, against the Bills, the AFC's top-ranked defense. Everyone expects Edgerrin James to have a difficult time running, but the key to Indianapolis' success may lie with Manning's ability to distribute the ball to various receivers.

Late last season, teams began to key on Marvin Harrison and that limited his effectiveness. Now Manning is making people pay if they focus too much on Harrison.

"It's happened before in some games and we haven't won and people kind of point to that as the reason: They were able to take Marvin Harrison out of the game, therefore the Colts didn't win," Manning said. "I think that's sort of a change in our offense, being our third year together, I'm really confident in all the receivers on any given down and distance.

"The past couple of years, I might've said, "I've got to go to Marvin. I don't have that confidence in anybody else.' Now, I feel like I'm going to look to Marvin but if he's not open I feel just as confident going to Jerome (Pathon) or Terrence (Wilkins) or Kenny (Dilger) or Marcus (Pollard)."

Those five receivers each have caught at least one touchdown. Wilkins, who made his first appearance of the season Monday night, had nine receptions for 148 yards. FUTURE PLANS: The contract extension given to Minnesota coach Dennis Green last week will go a long way in helping the Vikings keep key free agents in future years. Receiver Randy Moss already had made it clear he wasn't likely to stay with the Vikings without Green. Receiver Cris Carter is certain the decision will help alleviate such thoughts.

"Well, I know it would have been an issue with three of the free agents that we have, which would probably be three of the top 10 free agents in the next couple years in Robert Smith, Dwayne Rudd and Randy (Moss)," Carter told KFAN radio. "All those guys, I know it would have been an issue with them."

Moss is signed through the 2001 season, but it wouldn't be surprising if the Vikings tried to get him to agree to an extension before then. Smith and Rudd will be free agents after this year, and Smith said he might take less money to play for Green.

"It's been true of a lot of guys in the past, that they would take less money to stay here," Smith said. "My agent might kill me for saying it, but I definitely would say the same thing. To what degree, I don't know. I don't know what the market's going to be like. But I took less guaranteed money to stay here the last time."

BAGGING VINCE?: Cardinals coach Vince Tobin may not survive the season if his team doesn't start improving. Tobin has yet to make his mark in five seasons, although he got Arizona to the playoffs in 1998. The Cards are struggling and he need to show life, with a stadium referendum going before voters in November.

Polls show 53 percent of the voters are opposed. A switch to defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis, who was the Bears' first choice in 1999, could spark the team.

SMALL CHANGE: It's been documented that teams are forcing Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to beat them after Duce Staley rushed for 201 yards against Dallas in the season opener. McNabb didn't deliver early and Philadelphia fell to 1-2.

But the Eagles evened the mark last week with a win against the Saints. What was the difference? Maybe the return of former Jefferson star Torrance Small. Small missed two games with a hamstring injury, but when he got back last week, he had five receptions and teams had to play more honestly against fellow wideout Charles Johnson.

ET CETERA: The Rams have scored 160 points, an average of 40. They are on a pace for 640, which would shatter Minnesota's record of 556 set in 1998. ... The Bengals average 2.3 points. The worst scoring average since the merger is 7.4 points by the 1977 Buccaneers. ... Tiki Barber leads the Giants in rushing with 391 yards. Joe Montgomery led them last season with 348. ... This season, there have been 18 touchdowns of at least 70 yards. Last season, there were 11 at this point. That's a 64-percent increase. ... The Bears have blocked seven of the past 29 field goal attempts against them, including three in the past two games. ... Only three times in the previous 32 seasons have the Packers allowed fewer points in the first four games than they have in 2000. Since the Vince Lombardi era ended in 1967, the 2000 team's yield of 53 points was bettered in 1994 (50), 1973 (45) and 1969 (43). A total of 24 teams allowed fewer points than Green Bay's 100 in the preseason.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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