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INDIANAPOLIS — The featured attraction was supposed to be Peyton Manning and his brother, Eli. They did combine for five TD passes Sunday night in the second edition of the Manning Bowl, including a near-perfect performance by Peyton (20-of-26 passing for 255 yards and three TDs), but the Colts' ground game and defense stole the spotlight in a 38-14 shellacking of the Giants.
Colts RBs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown combined for 161 rushing yards and a touchdown on 36 carries and DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis harassed Eli Manning all night, accounting for four sacks, four additional QB hits and three forced fumbles.
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The Colts played like a team with something to prove Sunday night. Just one week after being dominated by the Texans in all three facets of the game in stunning fashion, the Colts flipped the script on the Giants. From the opening drive, in which they marched 80 yards in 12 plays, capped off by a seven-yard TD run by Brown, they didn't take their foot off the gas. Peyton's masterful direction of the no-huddle clearly limited the Giants' ability to substitute personnel, allowing the Colts to dictate the pace all evening.
If the offense set the tone, the "D" took it to the next level. It held the Giants' offense to 69 yards and five first downs in the first half — compared to 278 yards and 18 first downs by the Colts as Indy took a commanding 24-0 halftime lead. Freeney and Mathis abused the Giants' offensive line, which was totally helpless against the Colts' faster, more energetic defensive front.
FS Antoine Bethea was all over the field. CB Kelvin Hayden made several fantastic plays. The linebacker corps, which featured rookie Kavell Conner starting at weak side in place of the injured Clint Session, played with much better gap control. And the interior of the D-line, which was manhandled in Houston, controlled the line of scrimmage.
The 43 carries by the Colts were the most in the Peyton Manning-era. The offensive line, like the defense, did a complete 180 against the Giants. After allowing Manning to be hit 10 times in Houston, the O-linemen did a great job against the Giants' talented line, only allowing Manning to hit the turf three times and get sacked once. OLT Charlie Johnson more than held his own against the Giants' premiere pass rushers. OGs Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak looked like they belonged. C Jeff Saturday and ORT Ryan Diem showed no ill effects from lingering injuries.
And Addai and Brown were electric with the ball in their hands. Addai, who is in a contract year and has Brown breathing down his back for carries, appeared as motivated as ever. He was shifty and elusive, but also finished off his runs and made defenders pay. Brown, who had arguably his best game as a professional, seems to finally have earned the trust of head coach Jim Caldwell. Overall, the Colts made the Giants pay for only dressing two defensive tackles.
Even the special teams stood out. P Pat McAfee had five touchbacks in seven kickoffs to go along with several impressive punts, three of which were downed inside the Giants' 20.
It was a very impressive effort by the Colts. A week ago we wondered if we were seeing the start of their demise. The defense couldn't stop Arian Foster. The offense couldn't run the ball or protect Manning. Special teams couldn't cover a punt. It just goes to show that it's a marathon, not a race. And the Colts, if they can continue this formula of a more balanced approach on offense behind a line that is continuing to get healthy and gaining continuity plus a defense that plays together as a unit and gets big-time performances from its playmakers, are going to be in the playoff picture as per usual.