- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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MIAMI -- Prince electrified Dolphin Stadium on Sunday night by finishing his halftime music set with "Purple Rain." That was sandwiched between Peyton Manning and the Colts' version of the Blue Reign.
Manning erased any of the lingering questions about his career. He finally won a big game. All those proverbial monkeys are completely off his back. He beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI, and -- although maybe it came a little later than expected -- the Manning Reign can now begin. He put an end to all of the criticism, completing 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP.
Less than a half hour after his team put up 430 yards of offense on the great Bears defense, Manning, the perfectionist, accepted his first Super Bowl win by consistently calling it a "team victory" and vowed to use this Super Bowl experience to become a better quarterback. One of the greatest quarterbacks of our time already has started to think about winning another Super Bowl.
Just the threat of Manning beat the Bears on Sunday night. Safeties Chris Harris and Danieal Manning played roughly three-quarters of the game in a Cover 2 defense about 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Often, Bears linebackers dropped into coverage. Like so many teams that play Manning, Chicago was worried about him burning them for the long pass.
But what teams still fail to realize is that preventing Manning from throwing the ball deep actually plays into his hands. He loves picking apart defenses with the short pass. With the steady rain Sunday, Manning actually preferred to throw shorter, more controlled passes.
"Obviously, the passing game wasn't going to be as sharp with the weather," he said.
He struggled at first. With the rain mixing between drizzle and a downpour, Manning threw an interception on the Colts' opening drive, which looked even worse because the Colts trailed 7-0 after Devin Hester's game-opening 92-yard kickoff return.
In some ways, this game fit the season profile of this year's Colts. They did it the hard way. Sure, Indianapolis jumped out to a 9-0 start this season, but the team struggled with injuries down the stretch and ended up the AFC's third seed, forcing three tough playoff games.
"In the past when our team's come up short, it's been disappointing," Manning said. "Somehow, we found a way to have learned from those bad losses, and we've been a better team because of it. As disappointing as the playoff loss was last year to Pittsburgh, the veteran guys got together and learned from it and felt we were a better team this year and maybe stronger for it. It's nice when you put a lot of hard work to cap it off with a championship."
It was fun sitting in Dolphin Stadium watching Manning go through his routine well before the game. About two hours before kickoff, he and assistant head coach Jim Caldwell were seen kneeling at the 10-yard line, going over their final strategies. After that, he started working his passing tree routines with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and others.
"He was doing his routine," offensive coordinator Tom Moore said. " [Caldwell] and Peyton will sit there and go over a few things. Jim Caldwell does a tremendous job, and he and Peyton have a great relationship. Peyton is focused every game. He doesn't take anything for granted."
The conditions were among the worst in Super Bowl history. Normally, Super Bowls are played in domes on dry, warm fields. Miami was humid and wet, a nightmare for a quarterback. Rex Grossman clearly was affected. He had two interceptions and two fumbles and struggled all game.
"That's why you're kind of glad to have a veteran center like Jeff Saturday," Manning said. "I don't know how many snaps we took together. The Bears had a couple of exchange problems. Jeff and I never had any exchange problems, and that was nice. We were really trying to protect the ball."
This might have been the greatest job of keep-away in Super Bowl history. There was a stretch from the 9:14 mark of the second quarter into the third quarter in which the Colts ran 32 of 36 plays. At one point, the Colts had 65 plays to just 23 for the Bears. Overall, the Colts ran 81 plays to 48 for the Bears.
Although the Bears' defense might have been content holding Harrison (five catches for 59 yards) and Wayne (only two catches) relatively in check, Manning was still able to pick the Bears apart. He completed 10 passes to halfback Joseph Addai and worked short passes all day. When he'd catch the Bears in a Cover 1 defense, he'd run the ball.
Instead of killing the Bears with the quick strike, he destroyed them the slow, methodical way. Because of the weather, he and Tony Dungy -- who got his first Super Bowl win as a coach -- were cautious in the red zone and settled for field goals. Although he wasn't asked to kick a game winner, Adam Vinatieri made three of four field goals.
The play that turned the momentum in the game came with 6:50 left in the first quarter. Manning is so good that if you make any mistake, he is going to exploit it, and the Bears made a big blunder that allowed Wayne to get open for a 53-yard touchdown reception to cut the Bears' lead to 7-6.
"The touchdown pass was something that we kind of put in for this week," Manning said. "It was kind of an end pump route. I think they busted the coverage. I think it was supposed to be a Cover 2 and the safety [Chris Harris] played man-to-man. Without the pump route, Reggie would have been open. But the main thing is you have to buy some time because you had to hold the ball. I was glad I was able to get the ball out of my hands."
Manning was a master surgeon on Sunday. For now, Manning is off to the Pro Bowl, but his plan is to return to Indianapolis in March to start working on next season.
"We're going to work in March, and we're going to be better because of this," Manning said.
The Blue Reign started in Miami on Sunday night, and it might be just the beginning.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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