INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Peyton Manning watches the last three games and sees progress.
Not perfection, but at least he and the Colts are beginning to play like their old selves.
Manning is throwing more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, avoiding sacks and winning games with his masterful play calling. He's spreading the ball around, opening up running lanes with passes and, yes, he's finally in sync with the receivers.
Memo to the NFL: Manning is back.
``The way they've played the last three weeks, it looks like Indianapolis to me,'' San Diego coach Norv Turner said Wednesday. ``To do what they did against Pittsburgh, I was awfully impressed with that.''
The Colts' recent turnabout has forced critics, who not long ago were immersed in finding faults, to reassess their viewpoints.
Suddenly, Manning is playing like a two-time league MVP and his team has taken the cue.
814 yards, seven TDs and with quarterback ratings all above 95.
Then again, that is what's expected from one of the league's most consistent players.
Over the previous five seasons, Manning has never missed a game, lost a division title or won fewer than 12 games. He's completed at least 65 percent of his passes and thrown at least 28 TDs each of those seasons, too.
So when the Colts struggled early this season, many blamed Manning's mid-July bursa sac surgery and subsequent absence from training camp for the problems.
``There's no question offense is about rhythm and continuity and being together,'' Turner said. ``I don't care who you are, and as good as Peyton is and with everything he's done, if you miss that much time and then you don't have all the parts, it's going to take a toll.''
Clearly, it did.
He overthrew and underthrew receivers, and the Colts scrapped many of the stretch play calls that had been a staple of the offense.
But it wasn't all because of Manning.
He opened the season behind a makeshift offensive line that, at times, included three rookies. Indy's usually balanced attack was stymied by a ground game that ranked last in the league and was sometimes missing Joseph Addai.
Now that the Colts are starting to get healthy, the kinks are working themselves out.
ictory over Houston, the Colts ran for a season-high 154 yards while Manning led them on five straight scoring drives.
It's allowed Manning to give up his job as the answer man and revert to his traditional role as the Colts' perfectionist.
``We need to build on some of the things we're doing well, but we need to do a better job in the red zone this Sunday than last Sunday,'' he said. ``The field goals were nice, but we'd like to score more touchdowns when we get down there.''
The next test comes Sunday at San Diego, a foe that has created nightmares for Manning.
In January, the Chargers' rallied behind backup quarterback Billy Volek to end Indy's quest for back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Last November, at San Diego, Manning threw a franchise-record six interceptions - four in the first half - and Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:31 to go.
And in December 2005, the Chargers ended Indy's quest for perfection with a 28-24 victory in Indianapolis.
If the Colts intend to change those results, Manning and the offense will have to play flawlessly. Coach Tony Dungy believes they can.
``I think we're coming,'' Dungy said. ``We got our lineup solidified and our offensive line solidified, and he's gotten a lot more work with the receivers. It (the offense) has been sharp against some pretty good defenses in the past month.''
still need refining.
Indy receivers dropped nearly a half-dozen passes last week against Houston, and the Colts must prove they can run the ball consistently over the final six games.
Manning tries to continue his current streak of 123 passes without an interception against a San Diego defense that has caused problems in the past.
And the way he's going, he just might.
``It's something we've done a better job of the past few weeks, and that will be critical against these guys,'' he said. ``Not committing turnovers, trying to score touchdowns in the red zone, trying to avoid the negative plays, those are the things you always want to build on. We've been better.''
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