Fun and games

Dan Wetzel

You can tell they are having a pretty good time in Indianapolis this week. The Colts offense isn't just loose heading into Sunday's AFC championship game at New England; they've turned into comedians.

Hunter Smith, the punter who has yet to kick in the postseason because the Colts offense doesn't need him, is being hailed as "Hunter The Non-Punter."

"Nobody really likes Hunter that much," teased Peyton Manning.

The mental demands of Manning calling and then recalling plays at the line of scrimmage? That, Reggie Wayne jokes, is a bit stressful.

"Have you ever prepared for the SAT test?" the receiver laughed.

You can't blame the Colts for enjoying themselves. In two playoff games they've scored 79 points, gained 913 yards, converted 14 of 19 third downs and gotten one defensive coordinator fired.

They may have entered the playoffs hearing doubts about their ability to win big games, but they've responded by coming on stronger than Jalapeno soup.

"We're hot as an offense," Manning says.

So hot that, if this same level of execution continues, Indianapolis is headed to the Super Bowl – or at least that's the thinking in Indiana.

And it makes sense. Yes, Kansas City's flag football defense wasn't much of a challenge last week, but it is difficult to imagine anyone being able to stop Manning – especially when he is deftly calling plays without a huddle and placing passes on receivers' fingertips. It's not what Indy has done so much as how perfectly the Colts have done it.

"It's not trickery," says Manning, who is 44 of 56 for 681 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason. "We're not running flea-flickers. We're not running reverses. We're just running the same plays we've run all season."

Which is where Patriots coach Bill Belichick comes in. No one is better at devising defensive schemes that knocks offenses off-kilter.

The Colts have the most potent offense New England has faced since St. Louis' "Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI. And we all know how that turned out.

Or maybe not. You won't get anyone in Indianapolis to criticize the Patriots' impressive defense. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of fear, either.

"We'll take the same approach as we've had during the past few weeks and really all season," says Manning, whose QB rating is 156.9 out of a possible 158.3 in the playoffs. "One of the best things we've done all year is our preparation. We've really gotten ready to play. We expect the same thing this week."

Then there is Wayne, who is not convinced Belichick puts together smarter schemes than any other coach in the league.

"I think it's more of a mind thing than anything," Wayne says. "Not taking anything from Coach Belichick. He's a great coach, I'm sure. If we just go into the game, do what we do, not worry about anything from outside, not worry about anything from the other side of the field, just do what we do, we should be fine."

So there you go. The very confident Colts' irresistible force mets the Patriots' proven immovable defense.

The Colts don't sound worried about much. Not the weather in New England. Not the fact no dome team has ever won an outdoor league championship game. Not even the Patriots' 38-34 Week 13 victory at Indy. They are focused on themselves only, even claiming they can improve offensively.

"There's a lot of things you can correct," Wayne says.

Like what? Manning's footwork when taking a knee before the half?

All this confidence should come in handy. Belichick's defense will reveal nothing until the ball is snapped, leaving Manning decipher what he can while calling the play at the line of scrimmage.

Whoever guesses correct, wins. Manning, of course, watches more film than Roger Ebert and probably is the most cerebral quarterback in the NFL. Belichick is anything but dumb.

So far in these playoffs, the Colts' offense has been nearly perfect. Now they face their sternest challenge. They are confident going in. We'll see if they're still laughing coming out.

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