INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Peyton Manning got up, cleaned his dirty face and responded like a prizefighter.
After being bent over awkwardly twice in the first half, losing his helmet and once appearing hurt, the two-time MVP knocked out the Washington Redskins with three third-quarter touchdown passes Sunday as the Indianapolis Colts rolled to a 36-22 victory.
“I’ve seen him take some tough shots, and he’s a little tougher than people think,” coach Tony Dungy said.
Aside from the early battering, a face full of rubber chips from the turf and the neck rub he needed to return, Perfect Peyton nearly lived up to his nickname. He finished with a passer rating of 140.4 and helped the Colts keep their title as the AFC’s only unbeaten team.
Indy, which matched the Chicago Bears at 6-0, became the ninth team in league history to start two consecutive seasons with six straight wins.
But this didn’t go exactly by the script.
Manning declined to elaborate on what he hurt on the first big hit, when one defender grabbed his legs and Phillip Daniels hit him high. The nine-year veteran grabbed his throwing shoulder before calling timeout, then spent the next series on the sideline getting a rubdown and checking his grip on the ball.
“I attended the Bill Belichick school of not discussing injuries the past few summers … so I don’t really discuss that,” he said.
Though he was battered, Manning let his performance show the Redskins (2-5) he was not shaken. Manning finished 25-of-35 with four touchdowns and continued ascending the NFL’s career charts. His last TD pass, No. 256, sent him past Dan Fouts (254) and Sonny Jurgensen (255) into 10th in NFL history.
“It was Peyton being Peyton: Quick throws,” defensive end Andre Carter said. “They made certain adjustments. But it was us. We didn’t tackle well in the second half.”
The Redskins’ third straight loss also dealt a blow to their playoff hopes, and they had nobody to blame but themselves and Manning, who exposed their banged-up secondary in the second half.
Meanwhile, Manning and the Colts looked like themselves.
It was a game that had nearly as many odd twists as a Washington political scandal.
Colts defensive tackle Montae Reagor was involved in an automobile accident en route to the game, leaving him hospitalized with a head wound. The teams’ biggest stars, Manning and Washington running back Clinton Portis, were hurt in the first half. Although Manning didn’t miss a play, Portis left briefly after being hit with a helmet near his groin.
Then there was the game. Washington took its only lead on Antwaan Randle El’s 87-yard punt return, which came in the midst of four Redskins personal fouls in about a two-minute span. The last two forced Washington to kick off from its own 5.
“In the first half, we went after it hard, got the lead. It was a good first half,” Washington coach Joe Gibbs said. “In the second half, we couldn’t get anything done. Give a lot of credit to them, they overwhelmed us in the third quarter.”
This was the kind of game the Colts had been waiting for.
Newcomer Anthony McFarland, who replaced Reagor in the starting lineup, stuffed the Redskins’ first two runs and negated Washington’s ground game as Portis managed only 43 yards on 12 carries. Ladell Betts ran 10 times for 52 yards.
The Colts hardly looked like a team coming off a bye.
After Adam Vinatieri’s 30-yard field goal made it 10-7, Randle El caught a punt at his 13, found a huge seam up the middle and buckled the knees of punter Hunter Smith, the only player who had a shot to tackle him, with a nifty fake to give Washington a 14-10 lead.
From that point, it was all Manning.
A two-minute drive at the end of the half led to another Vinatieri field goal, and Manning followed that with three quick TDs in the second half—a 4-yard pass to Harrison, a 51-yarder to Reggie Wayne and a 1-yard pass to Harrison to make it 33-14 late in the third quarter.
“I asked him at halftime if he was OK and he said he was fine,” Dungy said. “And he was on fire in the third quarter.”
Manning passed Jim Hart for 14th on the career yardage list. Manning has 34,809 career yards; Hart had 34,665. … Harrison passed Irving Fryar for eighth on the career yardage chart. Harrison has 12,846 yards; Fryar had 12,785. … Santana Moss left the game with what Gibbs described as a hamstring injury. … Colts safety Mike Doss sprained a knee and will need an MRI exam. … Brunell was 27-of-37 for 226 yards and two TDs.