<
>

Manning throws two TDs as Colts stay perfect

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indianapolis Colts' unbeaten ride is
picking up so much steam that even their opponents see the
possibility of perfection.

The Colts shoved aside another formidable challenger Monday
night, handling the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 26-7 victory. From
their first offensive play, when Peyton Manning hit a streaking
Marvin Harrison in stride for an 80-yard score, the Colts dominated
another good team.

It's getting to be a habit for Indianapolis, the 11th team ever
to go 11-0 and the first since Denver in 1998. The Colts have
beaten three of their main AFC competitors -- the Patriots, Bengals
and Steelers (7-4) -- in a span of four weeks.

"It's tough to go undefeated, but they have the potential,"
Steelers receiver Hines Ward said.

"Time will tell," added Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher.
"They're a good football team, they play well on this turf, it's
made for them.

"There's not a lot of holes, they force you to play a 60-minute
game and they can hit you at any time."

Such as immediately, which Manning did as Harrison blew past Ike
Taylor, and the Colts never looked back.

Now they can look forward to the final month of what is becoming
an extraordinary season.

"Is it a burden being 11-0?" Manning said. "I never thought
of it as that. It's an honor because of the respect I have for NFL
teams. It's hard to win 11 games in a season, let alone the first
11."

While there are some significant obstacles ahead in their quest
to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect regular season -- meetings
with San Diego, Jacksonville and Seattle remain -- the Colts should
be favored in all five remaining games.

In shutting down Pittsburgh with a staunch, aggressive defense
that yielded only 197 yards, the Colts also ended a seven-game
slide in this series dating to 1984. Manning hurdled his New
England jinx on a Monday night at the beginning of November, and he
got his first career victory over Pittsburgh to finish off the
month.

They handed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger his first
road defeat; he was 9-0, but couldn't do much in his first game
back after missing three weeks because of knee surgery.

The Colts also set a franchise record with a 10th straight home
win in earning their 400th victory, combining the years in
Baltimore and Indianapolis.

"We went to New England and beat the AFC East leaders, we beat
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh," coach Tony Dungy said. "Knowing we
can beat the good teams and defending our turf is a good feeling."

Edgerrin James became the first rusher to gain 100 yards against
Pittsburgh in 23 games, running for 124 on 29 carries. By contrast,
Roethlisberger led the Steelers in rushing with 21 yards until
Willie Parker broke a 24-yard run in the final moments.

"I know when I get the ball I've got certain things I've got to
do," James said. "It's just a matter of how many times I get the
ball."

The only time Manning had faced the Steelers before in his
eight-year career was a 28-10 loss at Pittsburgh in 2002. He passed
for 304 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted three times.

After Manning hit Harrison just 1:44 into the game and Mike
Vanderjagt's 29-yard field goal made it 10-0, the two-time MVP made
his only big mistake. The Steelers sniffed out another deep pass to
Harrison. Manning underthrew his star receiver and Troy Polamalu
intercepted, slaloming through several weak tackle attempts in
returning the ball 36 yards to the 7.

After penalties set back the Steelers, Roethlisberger hit Ward
for a 12-yard score, making it 10-7. That was about it for
Pittsburgh.

Indy's vastly upgraded defense, ranked eighth and hitting as
hard as the Steel Curtain ever has, shut down the Steelers the rest
of the way. If not for Polamalu's pick and four 15-yard penalties
against the Colts, Pittsburgh wouldn't have been in the game at
halftime.

"The only thing we focused on was going out and playing the way
we play: physical, smart, fast," Colts safety Bob Sanders said.
"And today I think we did that better than any game this year.

"I think we did make a statement, because we played one of the
most physical teams in the league."

Cowher made a strange, seemingly desperate decision to open the
second half with an onside kick. It backfired, and Manning
concluded a 37-yard drive with a 12-yard TD pass to Bryan Fletcher.

"To try to create a spark," Cowher said of his decision, "try
to get a possession."

Vanderjagt's 28-yarder, his fourth field goal of the night,
ended the scoring.

Game notes
Manning finished 15-for-25 for 245 yards, and Harrison had
his 51st 100-yard game (four catches for 128), second in NFL
history behind Jerry Rice with 76. ... Steelers left tackle Marvel
Smith injured his left ankle and left in the second quarter. He
previously had hurt his right ankle. ... Colts WR-KR Troy Walters
left early with a shoulder problem. ... Roethlisberger was
17-for-26 for 133 yards.