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Sunday, January 9, 2005
Wayne has record-setting day in rout

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- On the assumption Denver's secondary can assimilate the written word, at least better than it deciphered the Indianapolis Colts' multifaceted passing game Sunday afternoon, this memo, courtesy of the late Jim Croce, to the Broncos last, limp, (invisible) line of defense:

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger

And you certainly, John Lynch and Co., don't publicly suggest in the days leading up to a playoff game that the Colts receivers are nothing more than girlie men.

So much for trash talk. For the second season in a row, and in even more convincing fashion than in 2004, the Colts' offense left the Broncos' overmatched secondary on the wild-card scrap heap. Not even the 25-point margin in the Colts' 49-24 victory was truly reflective of the schism that existed between the Indianapolis pass catchers and the Denver poseurs in the secondary.

I think we were a lot more motivated than we let on during the week. I mean, what the Broncos didn't seem to understand was that last week was like a preseason game for us. … So for them to do so much chirping in a game like that, geez, it was silly on their part. I think we just came out and tried to deliver a message right from the start.
Colts WR Brandon Stokley

Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, who bristled during the week at contentions Indianapolis' offense was virtually unstoppable, probably could have peopled his secondary with a quartet of immobile 55-gallon drums and might have achieved better results.

You talk the talk, as did the Broncos, and you've got to be able to, well, you know. But compared to the Colts receivers, who play every snap at warp-speed, the Broncos barely crawled in coverage. As far as yapping, Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne noted after a record-setting performance that, when he and his teammates sit down to review video of their wild-card victory, it will be like watching an old-fashioned silent movie.

At least when it comes to Denver's secondary.

"We got [ahead] so fast, they really didn't have much time to talk, you know?" said Wayne, who had 10 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns. "I mean, really, what were they going to say? They didn't have time to say anything."

For the Colts offense, the silence of Denver's sacrificial lambs, er, secondary was, indeed, golden.

Meanwhile, Wayne, quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the assemblage of Colts playmakers spoke volumes with their deeds. Fact is, if their actions were words, what transpired in the RCA Dome, in front of a typically boisterous and partisan crowd, would have qualified as a filibuster.

Red-hot from the outset, Manning completed 27 of 33 passes for 457 yards, with four touchdown passes, one interception and an efficiency rating of 145.7. The 457 passing yards were the second most in playoff history, topped only by Bernie Kosar's 489 yards in a 1986 postseason contest that went to overtime. Manning threw for a playoff-record 360 yards in the first half.

In the first halves of the Colts' last two playoff victories over Denver -- they led 35-3 at the half Sunday after building a 31-3 halftime lead a year ago -- Manning hit 37 of 45 attempts for 687 yards, with seven touchdown passes, one interception, and a mind-boggling 150.1 quarterback rating. The way the Broncos played in the first halves of the two losses could force NFL officials to consider a mercy rule.

Wayne, who enjoyed a breakout regular season, established a franchise record for most receiving yards. His 221 are third-most in league playoff history, behind just Eric Moulds of Buffalo (240 yards) and Anthony Carter (227). Wayne's two touchdown receptions pushed his career playoff total to four, a Colts team record.

In addition to Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark, who last week suffered a concussion on the much-publicized helmet-to-helmet hit for which Lynch was fined $75,000 and threatened with ejection on Sunday if he repeated his actions, had six catches for 112 yards and one score. Colts receivers averaged a gaudy 16.9 yards per catch. Manning had 17 completions of 10 yards or more, 11 completions of 20-plus yards and six of 25 yards or more. Running back Edgerrin James had 63 yards on 18 carries.

Manning, who runs about as often as the Denver secondary knocks down a pass, even scored on a 1-yard sneak in the second quarter. It was the first time the Colts have used a quarterback sneak since Tony Dungy became their coach in 2002.

"That was," acknowledged Manning, "a real trend-breaker, huh?"

Yeah, Peyton, but, on a day when the practice of abusing Denver's secondary continued for Manning and his cadre of explosive receivers, it might have been about the only thing that deviated from the norm. The Broncos added two new secondary starters this season in free safety Lynch and cornerback Champ Bailey, and the duo somehow managed to be named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad, despite uneven performances from both. Fact is, that Lynch could earn a free trip to Hawaii, despite not being able to run very well, indicates just how shy the AFC is of quality free safeties.

It was Lynch, fined four times in the past 13 months for excessive hits in the secondary, who contended the Colts receivers could be manhandled. Hard to tell on Sunday how he might have known, since he was so far removed from the action despite Denver playing an uncharacteristically high quota of single coverage.

On the Colts' opening offensive snap, Manning threw to Wayne on the left sideline. Wayne very obviously lowered his right shoulder and knocked Denver cornerback Kelly Herndon three yards backward. Maybe Herdnon was waiting for Wayne to pull out his purse and smack him; he got a mouthful of shoulder instead. On second down, Manning hit Wayne again, and again the wideout added yards by running through a tackle.

It was a pair of occurrences -- Wayne catching ball after ball and Indianapolis receivers muscling up against the muted Denver defenders -- that became commonplace.

Manning pretended, in his postgame remarks, that his receivers had paid little heed to the rhetoric emanating from Broncos camp all week. Wayne contended that he and his teammates didn't employ the trash-talkin' as extra motivation, then conceded that it did have some ramification.

"I just wanted to let them know [on the first play of the game] that I was going to be there all day," Wayne said. "I wasn't going to back down. I wasn't going to just fall down to the ground, like they said I would. I wanted them to know like, 'Hey, this is going to be happening all day.' If they were up for it, I wanted them to know where to find me."

It didn't matter much, since Denver's secondary couldn't have located the Colts wide receivers on critical plays even if the unit had the Polomar Telescope at its disposal. For whatever reason, the Broncos tipped off the Colts during last week's meaningless regular-season finale as to how they would cover Wayne, and the coaching staff clearly took full advantage of the early revelation.

When the Colts were aligned in their three-wideout set, with Wayne to the far left, the Broncos opted to cover him (or, at least, try to) with rookie Roc Alexander, an undrafted free agent cornerback from the University of Washington. They used Bailey against wide receiver Marvin Harrison and tried to check slot receiver Brandon Stokley with the other starting corner, Herndon.

Colts WR Reggie Wayne scored twice and finished with 10 catches for 221 yards.
For a guy tabbed as "soft" by the elder statesmen in Denver's secondary, Wayne was certainly harder than Roc(k). He abused the rookie time and again for big catches. In the two-wide receiver formation, Wayne consistently shook free from Herndon. It was as if Manning had Wayne available to him anytime he needed him. Fact is, about the only guy to knock down a ball intended for Wayne all day was Colts tight end Marcus Pollard. In the second quarter, Manning tried to throw to an open Wayne in the far back of the end zone. Mistakenly thinking the pass was for him, Pollard reached for the ball, deflected it, and Herndon intercepted.

It was, in retrospect, one of the Colts' few errors all day.

"We played about as well as we could play offensively," said Stokley, commenting on a stretch in which the Colts scored five touchdowns in six possessions. "I think we were a lot more motivated than we let on during the week. I mean, what the Broncos didn't seem to understand was that last week was like a preseason game for us. We gave our backups at lot of reps in practice. We knew the starters weren't going to play much. So for them to do so much chirping in a game like that, geez, it was silly on their part. I think we just came out and tried to deliver a message right from the start."

Not only did the Colts receivers make yards after catches, but they also complemented each other, with Harrison a decoy much of the day and several wideouts delivering key blocks. Stokley knocked aside Lynch rather deliciously, on a 35-yard score by Wayne in the second quarter. And then when Wayne scored on a screen of 43 yards in the fourth, Harrison wiped out Bailey with a block.

"Let's face it," said Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, "they were just better. They had a lot more energy than we did."

And a ton more urgency. Even when it trailed by three or more touchdowns, Denver never seemed overly concerned. The Broncos continued to huddle, rarely went to any kind of spread look, never forsook the run. In essence, they changed very little on either side of the ball and, with a sixth consecutive season without a playoff win now, one has to wonder how much longer coach Mike Shanahan will retain the "Mastermind" nickname he has embraced.

Indeed, if Shanahan is a mastermind, that must make Manning and Dungy co-presidents of Mensa.

"Yeah, I do think we're a smart team," Clark said. "We certainly try to play smart in everything we do. And, oh, yeah, we play tough, too."

A lot tougher, for sure, than the mouthy-turned-muted Denver secondary expected.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.