INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Peyton Manning felt cuddly warm thanks to
his favorite receiver.
The most prolific passing duo in NFL history tore apart the
Cincinnati Bengals, combining for three touchdowns in a 34-16
victory Monday night.
"When your backs are against the wall, you go to that old
blanket," Manning said. "I'm thankful for those guys every day.
Without those two, Marvin and Reggie (Wayne) ...
"I watch other quarterbacks in the league and none of them have
two guys like that. One great receiver, but not two great
receivers. It makes my job easier."
So did the Colts' maligned defense, which woke up after Indy
dropped three of its last four games and yielded an
incomprehensible 375 yards rushing a week ago to Jacksonville.
Cincinnati gained 278 yards overall, much of it after the outcome
"The defense felt really challenged to stop the run and get the
offense back on the field," Manning said. "We did a good job of
staying on the field tonight and getting into a groove."
It was vintage Manning, throwing to Harrison and dominating for
the AFC South champion Colts (11-3), while the Bengals (8-6)
slipped back in the wild-card race with their first loss in five
weeks. They'd allowed 33 points in those four wins, one less than
Indy scored Monday night.
"On some teams, it's almost like you have two different
teams," Manning said. "We try to stick together."
Manning, 5-0 against Cincinnati, had one of the sharpest outings
of his brilliant career, although he never looked deep because the
Bengals couldn't cover anyone on quick-hitting routes. He was
29-for-36 for 282 yards, a 136.3 rating, and his 15th career
four-touchdown outing. In addition to bringing his total TD throws
to Harrison to 103, he found Wayne on an 18-yarder and passed Vinny
Testaverde for eighth place with 270 career touchdown passes.
"We have so much talent offensively, we know that at any time
we can make things happen, no matter who has the ball," Wayne
said. "So whenever you give him time to throw the ball, we know
he'll light it up."
Manning was helped greatly by Cincinnati's inability to rush him
or handle receivers coming off the line. More than half his
completions came on short patterns where a Colt was wide open.
"That's just him," Bengals cornerback Tory James said of
Manning. "He did what he do. He did his job, which is what he does
"We went out there and proved to ourselves that we could play
well," Freeney said.
The victory kept Indianapolis even with Baltimore and one game
behind San Diego in the race for top record in the AFC.
"Sometimes things get escalated," Manning said. "We lost two
in a row, so we must have all these problems. We knew what was at
stake. ... We're playing for a lot of momentum going into the
postseason and for seeding."
The game became a poke-and-probe chess match in which Manning's
patience and Harrison's polish were decisive. On the first two
touchdowns, Harrison beat Cincinnati's coverage to the inside for
4- and 3-yard scores. He went the other way on the third,
victimizing Deltha O'Neal for a 1-yarder that made it 24-13.
The touchdowns capped clock-sapping drives that had the Bengals'
strong offense anxiously awaiting its chances. Cincinnati did
almost nothing with those opportunities
Indy's suspect defense made the first big play of the night.
Freeney, who had only 2½ sacks coming in, slammed into Palmer from
behind and knocked the ball loose for Anthony McFarland to recover
at the Bengals 46.
That led to Adam Vinatieri's 30-yard field goal.
With Indy up 10-3, Terrence Wilkins unwisely fielded a
well-covered punt at his 25 and dropped the ball. Cincinnati's Tony
Stewart recovered, leading to Rudi Johnson's 12-yard run that tied
No matter as Manning calmly led a 13-play drive using up all but
13 seconds of the half. He even scrambled for 12 yards on
third-and-9, and then Harrison used another slant-in for a 3-yard
Cincinnati's passing attack managed 17 yards in the first half
and couldn't protect Palmer from the inspired Freeney. And the
Bengals rushed for just 133 yards.
"I'm not stunned -- disappointed," Palmer said. "I felt we had
an opportunity to win, a chance to extend our season. I played
terrible, I missed too many balls."
Cincinnati is tied with the Jaguars, Jets and Broncos for the
two AFC wild-card berths.
Harrison finished with eight catches for 86 yards and Wayne
had seven for 84 ... Colts rookie running back Joseph Addai left in
the third quarter with an ankle injury that Dungy didn't think was
serious. Bengals left tackle Willie Anderson hurt his right foot,
while Chad Johnson needed an IV at halftime, but returned.