Inside Skinny: Manning Had All The Answers

How good was Peyton Manning in reading the Chiefs' defense and making adjustments in Indianapolis' 38-31 AFC semifinal playoff victory over the Chiefs?

"After those first couple drives," linebacker Shawn Barber offered as an answer, "I kind of looked him in the eye and wondered, 'Man, do you know what our call is?'

Nothing the Chiefs called worked against Manning, who made his audibles as comfortably amid the jet-engine noise level of Arrowhead as if he was talking to friends in his living room.

"He caught us in our blitzes, zone blitzes, man coverage -- everything," said defensive end Vonnie Holliday. "It felt like we had handcuffs on. Nothing we did really mattered.

"We felt coming in it was important to disguise our looks," Holliday added. "We'd start with our line shaded one way, then move to where we wanted to be. But he wasn't discouraged. He'd come up to the line, see what we were doing and he'd call 'Opposite.' I don't know what that meant, but it was working."

Really.

Manning and the Colts scored on six straight meaningful possessions -- excluding the final minute of the first half when Indy ran two plays and a kneel down from its own 21 -- to build a 14-point fourth-quarter lead that even a good Chiefs offense and kicking game couldn't overcome.

Not that Kansas City didn't have some magic of its own. Kansas City scored on four of its first six possessions, and Dante Hall got his fifth kickoff return TD of the year -- his first since Oct. 5 when he capped an unprecedented four-game scoring streak with a game-winning punt return against Denver -- on a 92-yard kick return to close the Colts' lead to 31-14 with 16 1/2 minutes remaining.

Arrowhead was roaring and the momentum was in danger of shifting after Hall's electrifying kick return. One defensive stop would give the Chiefs a chance to tie the game.

And for a few briefs seconds, the Chiefs appeared to have made it.

It was third-and-8 at the Colts 21 when the Chiefs tried to get their nickel defense on the field. But Manning, seeing the transition, quickly called a play at the line while the Chiefs were scrambling to get set. Eric Hicks stopped Edgerrin James for no gain, but the Chiefs were penalized for too many men on the field.

Given new life on third-and-3, James broke a 21-yard run for the first down, Manning hit back-to-back slants to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison for 17 and 27 yards and James scored five plays later to cap the 81-yard drive that restored the Indy cushion to 38-24 with 11:14 remaining.

"This was an embarrassing game defensively," said Holliday, remembering how the Chiefs defense was booed at home after Indy's second of six scoring drives. "We knew how good Peyton Manning is, but we just couldn't stop him. Last week we watched him score on his first seven possessions and we said there was no way he could come into Arrowhead and do that."

They were wrong.


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