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Colts' defense finally takes pressure off Manning

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- The Indianapolis Colts didn't need
Peyton Manning to be perfect. They didn't need injured running back
Edgerrin James at all.

Chad Bratzke and the defense made sure of that.

After enduring months of criticism, the Colts' defense produced
its most complete effort. Bratzke had a hand in two forced fumbles,
the defense got a season-high six sacks, and went 54 minutes
without giving up a point.

Add Manning's efficient 199 yards passing, and a 100-yard
rushing performance from James' understudy, Dominic Rhodes, and it
equaled Sunday's 30-14 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Suddenly, the Colts are playing like a balanced team and not
just Manning and Co.

"You don't feel the pressure to force one in there," Manning
said, referring to playing with a comfortable lead. "You're
certainly just as aggressive and going for touchdowns, but it
certainly enters into your thinking that, 'Hey, our defense is
playing well. Let's protect the ball. Make big plays and try to get
the win.' "

How impressive was Dominic Rhodes today?
Rhodes had another impressive performance today (34 rushes for 100 yards,
one touchdown) after last week's impressive performance (four rushes for 87
yards including a 77-yard touchdown run, plus an 88-yard punt return for a
touchdown). So he's put together back-to-back strong outings.

Rhodes has shown the Indianapolis coaching staff that they have a viable
backup to Edgerrin James, who missed today's game with a sprained left knee.
It was the first game James has missed in his NFL career.

ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the
Redskins and 49ers.


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It was a solid turnaround for a defense that had given up an
average of 359 yards and more than 30 points a game. Sunday,
Indianapolis forced three turnovers that led to 17 points, and
limited the Bills to 232 yards on offense.

"Certainly it's one of the best games that we played," Bratzke
said. "I don't want to say we made a statement. Let's retract
that. We executed well."

The Colts (4-3) have won two straight after a three-game losing
streak.

The Bills (1-6) have lost all four home games this season, and
are 0-6 at Ralph Wilson Stadium dating back to last year --
Buffalo's longest home losing streak since dropping eight in a row
from 1983-84.

More disturbing, the Bills have been outscored 162-75 during
their current home losing stretch.

"I feel bad for the fans," said Rob Johnson, who finished
17-for-33 for 172 yards passing. "It's tough for them to keep
coming out and cheering. We played terrible. That was awful. It's
very frustrating."

Buffalo's scores came on Nate Clements' 66-yard punt return and
Johnson's 27-yard pass to Jay Riemersma with 3:39 remaining.

After two promising performances, Johnson was back to his old
self -- the quarterback who holds on to the ball too long.

His troubles were compounded by a banged-up line missing John
Fina (knee) and Jonas Jennings (foot). Except for guard Ruben
Brown, the other four Buffalo linemen entered the game with a
combined 16 starts.

"I hope those guys will be back. They make us a better team,"
said Johnson. "But we've got to go with the guys we've got."

The Colts exploited the Bills' deficiencies

Bratzke got things rolling late in the first quarter, forcing
Johnson's fumble that led to Manning's 15-yard touchdown pass to
Marcus Pollard.

Ahead 14-7, Bratzke and Brad Scioli combined to force Johnson's
second fumble that set up Mike Vanderjagt's 34-yard field goal.

The Colts put the game away when Scioli blocked Jake Arians'
48-yard field goal attempt, ending the Bills' opening drive of the
second half.

The offense took care of the rest. Rhodes, in his first NFL
start, capped a 56-yard drive with a 1-yard run.

It was a welcome performance from Rhodes, an undrafted free
agent who never expected much playing time. James, one of the NFL's
most durable running backs, missed his first game with a bruised
left knee.

"I felt like it was a coming out game for me," said Rhodes,
only the fifth Colt to gain 100 or more yards in his first start.

Manning almost stole Rhodes' limelight in the running game.

Not known for his mobility, Manning fooled everyone when, on a
third-and-1, he faked a handoff and broke to his left, scoring on a
naked bootleg from 33 yards.

"I didn't call it until the last minute," said Manning, who
saw Buffalo's defense cheating the other way. "I'm 4-for-4 on
those things: three times in college and my first one here."

It was the second-longest touchdown run by a Colts quarterback,
10 yards short of George Taliaferro's run in 1953.

Game notes
Vanderjagt finished with three field goals, one from 47
yards. ... Clements, a cornerback, has two touchdowns against the
Colts. He ran back an interception in Buffalo's loss earlier this
season. His punt return score was the first for the Bills since
Russell Copeland in 1993. ... The 63,786 paid attendance was more
than 10,000 short of a sellout. The Bills sold out seven of eight
games in each of their last two seasons ... Bills S Keion Carpenter
cracked a rib in the first quarter.

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