INDIANAPOLIS -- There really can be no surprises anymore, not after the mesmerizing 2004 regular season Peyton Manning concocted, and certainly not after the 49-24 wild-card walloping of the Broncos Sunday.
Nonetheless, the cavalcade of accolades continued yesterday when the 28-year-old Manning was named the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player. The 6-foot-5-inch pass-throwing impresario won the award for a second year in a row, further distinguishing a season in which he tossed a record 49 touchdown passes, surpassing the 20-year-old mark held by the legendary Dan Marino.
"I have to laugh a little bit," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, who preceded Manning to the podium yesterday afternoon when the award was announced at the Colts' practice facility. "When I came here, my reputation [as a defensive strategist] preceded me, and because of that, some people thought I might try to rope him in. There was the thought that we'd win games, 10-6.
"Well, I'd like to thank him for making me an offensive genius."
Manning, now tidying up his seventh NFL season, has thrown 216 TD passes since debuting with the Colts in '98 after being selected No. 1 overall out of Tennessee. He tossed four TDs Sunday, part of a staggering 457-yard day that left him only 32 yards shy of the postseason record established by Cleveland's Bernie Kosar in two overtimes vs. the Jets in '87.
Rope him in? Beat teams by barely eking out double digits?
"I never thought that," said Manning. "If you told me as an offense we'd have 49 TD passes, and break Dan Marino's record, I'd have been the last person to tell you that.
"It's been a fun ride."
Manning and the Colts will have their Route 1 Redux Sunday when they come to Foxborough to face the Patriots in the AFC semifinals. He was similarly hot as a fiery horseshoe last January when the Colts came to town, after directing Indianapolis to an aggregate 79 points in playoff wins over Denver and Kansas City. But faced with New England's daunting defense, masterminded by Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel, Manning sputtered, his interceptions (4) doubling his TD passes (2).
Manning said he played "like a dog -- no ifs, ands or buts" in that 24-14 loss. Now, with a second AP MVP in his pocket -- he garnered 47 of 48 votes, losing one to Michael Vick -- about the only accomplishment that has eluded him is a Super Bowl win.
"Obviously, individually, I've accomplished a lot in a short period of time," said Manning. "But there's no question that we haven't won a Super Bowl since I've been the quarterback here."
The Colts could take a giant step toward that ring with a win over the Patriots. The Colts will be looking to jump on the Patriots with the same ferocity with which they went after Denver, scoring a club-playoff-record 35 points in the first half. Manning undoubtedly will be in his familar grip-and-rip mode, delivering delicious tosses to seven able receivers.
"I would really like to go up there and help my team win, whether it's 35-34 or 3-0," said Manning. "You cannot play average and beat those guys."
Average is as average does, and there is rarely anything average about Archie Manning's boy. He can pass for distance but is more likely to nail his prey with a continuum of perfect-touch tosses that can turn Colt possessions into warp-speed scoring drives.
The five first-half scoring drives Sunday were clocked at the following fast-forward speeds: 1. 3:43; 2. 4:59; 3. 1:42; 4. 0:50; 5. 3:07. That's five drives totaling 14:21, an average of 2:52 -- about as long as it takes a citizen of Patriots Nation to navigate a Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru. Opposing defenses often scream for mercy, but they're more likely to be yelling from the sideline than from scrimmage.
In the second half, perhaps exhausted, the Colts needed marathon sessions of 3:22 and 5:43 for TDs Nos. 6 and 7. Union ushers at the RCA Dome must have at least consulted their work-rule guide for potential overtime pay.
"Peyton is such a competitor," said Sunday's No. 1 target, Reggie Wayne, who hauled in two TD passes and piled up a staggering 221 receiving yards, shattering the club playoff mark set by Raymond Berry in 1958. "Whenever he throws to you, you want to bail him out of tough situations."
Such tight spots are indeed rare for the Colts nowadays. Manning is on a roll, mimicking the savvy and success of some other AP two-time award winners: Joe Montana, John Unitas, Steve Young, and Kurt Warner. Packers QB Brett Favre, now pondering retirement, is the only three-time winner.
"Just being with those names," noted Manning, "makes it more special, and I'm very humbled to be on that list."
Humbled, yes, but he didn't say surprised. And why should he?