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Beating Patriots made Manning a champ

2/2/2010

MIAMI -- Heath Evans stood helplessly on the sidelines and watched Peyton Manning evolve into the quarterback he's known as today, the fearless two-minute king and not a quarterback condemned to be a runner-up his whole life.

Evans was the New England Patriots' fullback in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. He witnessed Manning will the Indianapolis Colts to a 38-34 victory, driving them 80 yards in 77 seconds for the winning touchdown with a minute to play.

The Colts went on to win the Super Bowl, and Manning's greatness was validated.

Evans, an injured reserve with the New Orleans Saints, recalled Manning's breakout game -- a liberation from previous losses to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick -- at NFL media day in Sun Life Stadium.

"I think about the comeback aspect of that game, 21-6 at halftime, a prime opportunity for a lesser team to say 'Oh, this game's over and done with,' " Evans said. "Peyton was Peyton and brought them back.

"Maybe a huge stepping stone, but definitely has thrust him into that 'We can beat anybody at any time, no matter what the deficit, no matter what the team, no matter what the coaching staff.' "

Evans wondered out loud if Manning would have broken through had he not done so that night in the RCA Dome.

"If they wouldn't have beat us, then we would have gone on an hopefully beat the Bears," Evans said. "That would have put another year, another notch in Tommy's belt, another notch against Peyton that 'Oh, he can't beat [the Patriots]. He can't beat the Gators.' It would have been one of those things, but he came back and beat us good."

Evans, who played for the Patriots from 2005 through 2008, has been idled since suffering a season-ending knee injury against the Miami Dolphins on the same field the Saints will play on Sunday night. He scored three touchdowns in seven games.

He still intends to contribute by imparting whatever wisdom he gathered with the Patriots.

"That's why I was brought here," Evans said. Saints head coach Sean Payton "wants better leaders, better character guys. It's highly known that Bill only brings in good guys in New England. What I learned from him was priceless.

"I'm constantly trying to dive into that memory bank of stories or experiences or whatever they may have been that really benefited me in my four years with the Pats. Just with the Patriots history of trying to beat the Colts and the wars we had, I've tried my best to lay it on the line for my guys.

"This isn't the Eagles. This isn't the Cowboys. This is a different opponent. If you're not prepared, they won't just beat you, they'll embarrass you."