INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Peyton Manning and the Colts played with the aggressiveness and passion they need to win in the playoffs. Now they must figure out a way to duplicate that effort in January.
With Manning running through defenders, shredding a depleted Miami secondary and watching his maligned defense force Miami to kick five field goals, the Colts hung on to the AFC’s No. 3 seed Sunday with a 27-22 victory.
Manning threw two touchdown passes and bulled into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run.
Coach Tony Dungy sounded more relieved than overjoyed.
“You could see how much this game meant to us,” he said. “That (Manning’s run) was something where he usually slides there at about the three or four. We had backs running hard late, and we had good, good intensity throughout the game.”
It was a stark contrast from the failures of the previous six weeks when the Colts lost four times and blew their chance to earn a first-round bye.
Instead, Indy (12-4) reverted more to its traditional form by playing with the lead. The Colts also completed their first perfect home season since 1958.
Next up: Protecting their home turf against Kansas City and Larry Johnson in a wild-card game next Saturday.
Indy now heads into the postseason with momentum—something it desperately needed.
“The idea, obviously, is to be playing some of your best football in the month of January,” said Manning, the two-time MVP who is still trying to take the Colts to the Super Bowl for the first time. “It’s what we’ve kind of talked about.”
Manning was his usual efficient self against Miami, completing 22-of-37 for 282 yards. His supporting cast, however, had a different look.
Defensive tackle Dan Klecko lined up at fullback and caught the first touchdown of his four-year NFL career early in the second quarter. Aaron Moorehead set up Manning’s TD run with a nifty 36-yard reception late in the first half, and Cato June’s interception on the Dolphins’ final play of the half led to Adam Vinatieri’s field goal that made it 17-6.
The Dolphins (6-10) lost their third straight.
Quarterback Cleo Lemon, making his NFL starting debut, looked solid most of the day. At times, however, he played like a rookie. While finishing 18-of-36 for 210 yards, Lemon made a poor decision by throwing into coverage just before the half and his desperation pass at the end sailed out of the end zone.
The Dolphins only touchdown came on a 6-yard pass from Lemon to Randy McMichael with 3:11 left.
“I thought he played with great poise and patience,” Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. “Especially in a situation like this, on the road. He slid in the pocket nicely and did a good job moving away from the pressure.”
Of course, the Dolphins also exploited the league’s worst rushing defense.
Ronnie Brown rushed 21 times for 115 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark late in the third quarter.
But the Dolphins defense couldn’t stop Manning.
Klecko’s 2-yard TD reception gave the Colts a 7-3 lead and moved Manning into seventh place on the career touchdown list, breaking a tie with Joe Montana. They never trailed again.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Klecko said. “I have a couple of touchdown catches, but that’s my first in the NFL.”
Then, clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the half, Manning hooked up with Moorehead for the long pass and on the next play the quarterback eluded the rush and raced 11 yards, crossing the goal line as he was sandwiched between defenders.
“You’re going ‘Yeah, way to go,’ ” tight end Dallas Clark said. “But at the same time, you’re saying ‘Please get up.’ “
With Miami trading field goals for touchdowns, Mare got the Dolphins within 20-15 early in the fourth quarter.
Manning, though, responded with a masterful, quick-hitting drive. He connected with Clark, who made a diving one-handed catch for a 30-yard gain down the middle of the field and followed that with an 11-yard completion to Reggie Wayne on the left sideline. Manning finished the drive with a 27-yard TD pass to Marvin Harrison down the right sideline to make it 27-15.
“We still have some work to do, tighten up a little more on defense, tighten up our kick coverage,” Dungy said. “But it was a good effort and I’m looking forward to next week.”
Indianapolis was the only team in the NFL to allow all 16 of its opponents to rush for at least 100 yards. … Jason Taylor became the first non-defensive back since Bob Matheson in 1976 to share the team lead in interceptions. … Harrison caught five passes for 74 yards, five short of breaking Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most 100-reception seasons in a career. Harrison and Rice each have four.