Now, everybody can look ahead to the showdown with New England.
Manning shook off a slow start to throw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and broke Johnny Unitas’ team record for career scoring passes in the Colts’ 31-7 win over the injury-plagued Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
But when Testaverde left at halftime with tendinitis in his right Achilles’ tendon, Manning made sure the Colts’ much-anticipated matchup with Tom Brady and the Patriots wouldn’t be tarnished by dominating the second half.
The Colts became the first team since the 1929-31 Green Bay Packers to win their first seven games for three straight seasons. It’ll get much tougher next week when they host the dominating Patriots.
“Everybody’s been talking about it for a long time, except us,” Manning said. “I guess now it’s safe to talk about it.”
Manning was worried early. It took him nearly the entire first quarter to get on the field. He didn’t complete a pass until early in the second quarter and started 2-for-9.
“When we’ve had halves like that in the past, there would be a little frustration,” said coach Tony Dungy, who passed Don Shula for the most wins in Colts’ history with 74. “But we’ve been there, and our guys do have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff.”
The Panthers (4-3) took a 7-0 lead behind Testaverde, who turns 44 in two weeks.
Getting the starting nod for the second straight game ahead of David Carr, who’s still recovering from a back injury, Testaverde led the Panthers on an opening 80-yard touchdown drive. It lasted a team record-tying 18 plays and more than 11 minutes, the longest by time in the NFL this season
After completing 12 of 20 passes for 82 yards, Testaverde began the second half with an ice pack around his ankle and sitting on the bench next to Jake Delhomme. Carolina’s original starting QB was in a sling after undergoing season-ending elbow surgery.
“There are days when it doesn’t bother me at all, and days like today,” Testaverde said. “We just have to be smart with it, and hopefully it will clear up.”
Before Carr could replace him, the Colts had taken a 17-7 lead on Manning’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Addai on the first drive of the half.
Manning completed just 14 of 30 passes, but shook off early problems to eclipse another one of Unitas’ records. His second TD, a perfectly thrown 59-yard pass to Reggie Wayne late in the third quarter was the 288th of his career, one more than Unitas.
“I’m a little uncomfortable talking about the same records that he had but certainly it is an honor,” Manning said.
Carr was the quarterback for Houston the last time the Colts lost—on Christmas Eve—but the Panthers were overmatched in the second half as they dropped to 0-3 at home.
And it didn’t sit well with Carolina receiver Steve Smith. Held without a catch after the opening drive, Smith was seen screaming at Carr on the sidelines late in the game.
“I’m trying to get him the football. And he’s not necessarily concerned about himself getting the football,” Carr said of Smith. “He just wants our team to be better. I just went up to him and said, ‘If there’s anything I can do that you see from the wide receiver position that can make us a better team, then let me know.’ We just got talking because we’re too old to keep secrets from each other. And he’s not like that at all. He’ll tell you straight up.”
Smith, held to two catches for 18 yards, did not speak to reporters after the game.
Carr completed 11 of 18 passes for 68 yards and DeShaun Foster rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers.
Wayne caught seven passes for 168 yards as Manning’s primary receiver with Marvin Harrison out with a knee injury. The Colts also played without left tackle Tony Ugoh, but Manning had plenty of time to throw in the second half as they won their 12th straight game dating to last season.
Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson was lost to a neck injury in the second half, but Dungy hoped he’d be ready for the Patriots.
“I think it’ll be a circus,” Dungy said, laughing. “I think it’ll be a very, very much hyped game.”
The Panthers also had an 18-play touchdown drive against Atlanta in 1995, the team’s inaugural season. … Panthers DT Kris Jenkins was called for a 15-yard penalty for driving Manning into the turf in the third quarter.