A letdown? Are you kidding? Peyton Manning wouldn’t even think of it.
“It felt good to get that first win last week against Denver, but the main goal is to keep playing,” the Indianapolis Colt quarterback said of today’s AFC semifinal game against the Kansas City Chiefs. “Our guys are excited about the opportunity of playing arguably the hottest team in the league right now. It’s a great opportunity.”
So what that Manning is coming off a transcendent performance in last Sunday’s 41-10 rout of the Broncos, when he completed 22 of 26 passes for 377 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. He and the Colts realize it’s no guarantee that there will be a carry-over into today’s game against the rested Chiefs, who had last weekend off. So forget about overconfidence. “What happened in the past doesn’t dictate what happens in the future,” Colt Coach Tony Dungy said.
For all the brilliance of last week’s win, the circumstances today will be entirely different. For starters, the Colts must go on the road to Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most difficult venues for any visiting team. For another, the game will be on a grass field, which could slow the Colt offense. Plus, as well as Manning played against Denver, the Colts might take a different approach to attacking the Chiefs’ defense.
Kansas City’s major weakness isn’t defending the pass, it’s stopping the run. Only two teams -- Houston and Oakland -- surrendered more rushing yards than the Chiefs, who gave up an average of 146.5 yards on the ground.
Can you say Edgerrin James?
The Colt running back has had a relatively quiet, yet effective season, rushing for 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns. James is now two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery, and he seems more like the guy who burst into the league as one of the most productive backs ever, not the one who often struggled last season.
The Chiefs’ defense has been a major concern through the second half of the season, and today’s performance almost certainly will go a long way toward deciding whether the Chiefs advance to the AFC championship game or whether their 13-3 regular season, fueled by a 9-0 start, was a waste.
As poorly as the Chiefs’ defense has performed in recent weeks, the offense hasn’t missed a beat. So if this one turns into a shootout, the Chiefs figure to be able to match the Colts’ offense touchdown for touchdown. Quarterback Trent Green is coming off his finest season with 4,039 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and Priest Holmes had another monster year with 1,420 yards and an NFL-record 27 rushing touchdowns.
The Chiefs scored a team-record 484 points this season. They have won 13 in a row at Arrowhead, outscoring their opponents by a combined 433-184 over that stretch. But Manning is 3-0 against the Chiefs and the Colts have won six in a row against Kansas City.
Manning’s message for this one: Throw out the numbers. They won’t mean a thing. “It’s a playoff game,” he said, “and that changes everything.”