<
>

Manning, Colts make history with back-to-back 9-0 starts

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Just call him Patient Peyton.

With Buffalo content to slow down the Indianapolis Colts
up-tempo offense, a restrained Manning relied on short throws, an
effective ground game and a time-consuming final drive to lead the
Indianapolis Colts past Buffalo 17-16 on Sunday -- and into the NFL
record book.

Indy is the first team ever to have consecutive 9-0 records.

"They just stayed real deep and double-covered the outside
receivers," Manning said. "When a team does that, taking away the
deep patterns, you've got to be able to run the ball and you've got
to be able to throw underneath and get yards after the catch. We
were doing that."

A few years ago, an impatient Manning may have been tempted to
force balls deep. Not now.

On Sunday, he played with his customary accuracy -- completing 27
of 39 passes for 236 yards with one touchdown -- and was determined
to make the Bills pay for their tactics.

But the Colts still needed some help from Rian Lindell, who
pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right -- a play that would
have given Buffalo the lead with 6:22 left.

The miss ruined a near perfectly executed game plan for the
Bills (3-6).

"We tried to reduce the time they had the ball and when they
had the ball, we tried to bleed them for everything we could,"
coach Dick Jauron said. "We just didn't do it well enough."

As Manning looked like himself making reads and picking apart
the Bills, his teammates adjusted.

Buffalo forced Manning to go more frequently to his tight ends
and running backs. The dangerous receiving tandem of Marvin
Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined for only six catches and 63
yards, while Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai had 27 total carries
for 150 yards, and the little-known Ben Utecht caught seven passes
for 66 yards.

J.P. Losman was even more patient.

He completed 8 of 12 passes for 83 yards, losing another
completion on a scoring change after the game. Anthony Thomas,
starting in place of the injured Willis McGahee, carried 28 times
for 109 yards, and Terrence McGee scored the Bills' only touchdown
on a 68-yard fumble return.

It wasn't quite enough to derail the Colts, who have now won 31
of their last 34 regular-season games.

"I thought we would be a little sharper today, but what
happened is they had a very good game plan," coach Tony Dungy
said. "It wasn't anything we didn't anticipate. ... I wish we
could have put it together a little better."

The Colts did get flustered.

They lost two fumbles, a rarity for a team that entered the game
with the second-best turnover differential in the league (plus-10),
and the second put Indy on the brink of defeat.

Clinging to a 17-16 lead midway through the fourth quarter,
Aaron Schobel stripped the ball from Rhodes near midfield and Nate
Clements recovered at the Indy 41.

The Bills quickly moved into position for Lindell, driving to
the Colts 17 before allowing three-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney
to race in from Losman's back side on third-and-5. The result: A
7-yard loss that forced Lindell to try a longer field goal. He
missed.

"He was crushed by it, and he's been so good all year, you're
almost startled when he misses," Jauron said.

Manning responded by cleverly running out the clock.

A 1-yard TD pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne early in the
second quarter gave Indy a 7-3 lead, and after Adam Vinatieri's
field goal made it 10-3, Manning had the Colts in position to take
control.

But Angelo Crowell forced Utecht to fumble after a 9-yard
completion, and McGee scooped it up and outran the Colts for a
touchdown to tie the score at 10 with 31 seconds left in the half.

Manning needed only nine plays to make up for the mistake, using
a mix of runs and short passes on the first second-half drive.
Addai finished it by scoring on a 5-yard run to make it 17-10.

The Bills stayed close, using McGee's 88-yard kickoff return to
set up Lindell's second field goal and closed to 17-16 when Lindell
hit a 43-yarder.

"When we scored points, we executed; when we had turnovers, we
didn't execute," Manning said. "So when you do that, it can be
tough against a defense like that. When we had to move the ball and
run the clock at the end there, we did a good job with it."

Game notes
Manning broke a tie for eighth on the NFL's career TD
list with Vinny Testaverde by throwing his 262nd touchdown. ...
Manning also passed Boomer Esiason for 11th on the career
completions list. Manning now has 2,979; Esiason finished with
2,969. ... The Bills haven't defeated an unbeaten team on the road
since the 1980 San Diego Chargers.