- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — If Peyton Manning has proved anything this season, it is that nothing is out of reach.

He already has thrown five touchdowns in an NFL-record four games this season. He’s thrown at least three touchdown passes eight times and is on pace to shatter Dan Marino’s seemingly untouchable single-season record of 48 touchdown passes.

“He’s as close to a football god as there is right now,” Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “The way they’re playing on offense, it’s like Madden 2005.”

Manning’s statistics are impressive, but it’s the way he has responded to challenges that has awed observers.

Coming off his 2003 MVP year, Manning was constantly asked whether he was worth a new seven-year, $98million contract. His play this year has delivered his response.

In 11 games, Manning already has thrown for nearly 3,200 yards and 41 touchdowns, and his quarterback rating is 126.6. He’s thrown more touchdowns in the last five weeks, 24, than every team other than Minnesota has all season. He’s beaten teams with his arm, his feet, even throwing left-handed.

At this rate, Manning will finish with 4,649 yards, 60 touchdowns and a rating that would crush Steve Young’s NFL record of 112.4.

Even Manning cannot ignore the chase some consider football’s equivalent of baseball’s home-run record.

“If I had 47 going into the Denver game, it would be hard to say it hadn’t crossed my mind,” Manning said, referring to the Colts’ season finale. “The more I think about it, the more I’m amazed by what Marino did.”

Marino, an analyst for CBS and HBO, is also surprised his touchdown record is in jeopardy.

He has joked in the last month that Manning needs to stop throwing touchdowns and was even asked whether he tried to break Manning’s right arm during an interview.

Marino clearly wants the record, but he can also sense it slipping away.

“You don’t want someone to break your record. That’s a natural thing,” the former Miami Dolphins quarterback said. “But because of Peyton and who he is, I’m rooting for him to win.”

How good has Manning been?

Performances like Thursday’s six-touchdown masterpiece against Detroit have become so commonplace, members of the Colts organization simply have come to expect them.

“If he puts up 10 touchdowns, that would surprise me,” wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Nothing else does.”

The son of Archie Manning, a former NFL Pro Bowl quarterback, and older brother of Eli Manning, the No.1 overall draft pick this year, Peyton has won two division titles, played in one AFC title game, been to four Pro Bowls and established himself as the league’s best pocket passer in less than seven seasons.

He engineered the largest turnaround in league history when the Colts went from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999.

And he always has found ways to improve.

“I’ve probably never been with a guy like this, maybe Warren Moon in Minnesota, who makes the good decisions and good reads so consistently,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “I’m really enjoying it.”

So are Colts receivers.

Stokley already has career highs for receptions (47), yards (729) and touchdowns (eight). Reggie Wayne has a career-best nine touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Clark’s five touchdown catches are four more than he had as a rookie, and Marcus Pollard needs just two more touchdowns to match his career best of eight.

Twenty-six of the Colts’ last 27 touchdowns have come through the air, and Manning has thrown at least five touchdowns to five players. Three receivers — Stokley, Wayne and Marvin Harrison — are all on pace to top 1,000 yards, and there’s still five games left.

The last time a quarterback was this efficient was during Marino’s record chase in 1984.

“He don’t need advice from me,” Marino said. “He’s doing fine.”

For Manning, though, there’s still work to do.

Only two players, Green Bay’s Brett Favre and San Francisco’s Joe Montana, have won back-to-back MVP awards. He has the Colts two games ahead of Jacksonville in the AFC South, with a chance to inch closer to a division title Sunday at home against Tennessee.

But the most glaring omission on Manning’s otherwise perfect resume, a Super Bowl win, is one Marino can identify with. He thinks both the record and a Super Bowl are also now within Manning’s grasp.

“The thing is not to worry about [the record],” Marino said. “I’d love to see a guy like Peyton get in the Super Bowl and win it. I tried as hard as I could for 17 years, and it didn’t happen. He’s got a little more time.”

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