INDIANAPOLIS – Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne have seen Peyton Manning’s high-flying act.
As longtime teammates, they played a part in Manning’s gaudy stats, record-breaking quests and even the distracting pursuits of perfection.
This week, as outsiders, they will put all that inside knowledge to use as Andrew Luck and the Colts try to derail Manning and the unbeaten Broncos.
“You’ve got try to rattle him as much as you can,” Mathis said.
It’s never been easy for a veteran team like the Patriots to do, and it won’t be any simpler for Luck’s young Colts (4-2), who have never been through a week quite like this.
Manning’s return to Indy has been hyped 24/7, helped along by Denver coach John Fox’s criticism and the ensuing media outcry about comments made by Colts owner Jim Irsay – comments that were virtually identical to what he had been saying for months.
There has been curiosity about how long and exactly what the Colts will do to honor Manning during pregame festivities. And, of course, everyone wants to know what will be going through Manning’s masterful mind as he suits up in Lucas Oil Stadium’s visiting locker room for the first time.
“For me to predict, I just can’t give you an answer,” Manning said, a tactful attempt to deflect attention from himself. “I guess I’ll know a little more after the game.”
What Wayne and Mathis know better than most is how good Manning can be.
Nobody has thrown more touchdown passes through six games (22) and no quarterback since 1950 has produced more double-digit winning streaks. Manning has officially done it five times, six when counting the four-game playoff run that led to his only Super Bowl title, a string the league does not count.
Denver’s 17-game winning streak is tied for the fourth longest in NFL history.
Not long ago, Manning was doing all this in Indy.
Colts fans remember his record-breaking 2004 season with 49 TD passes, and Mathis and Wayne played key roles in Indy’s league-record 23-game winning streak led by Manning in 2008-09. They were also around for the 13-0 start in 2005 when Indy’s average winning margin was 16.3 points.
It’s different this time.
Manning’s Broncos (6-0) are on pace to shatter the NFL’s single-season scoring record and, fair or not, many will watch Sunday night’s game to see whether Luck can live up to the standards Manning established.
But if Mathis and Wayne learned anything from Manning, it’s this: forget the sideshows.
“It’s a big game to us just because every game is a big game. We’re coming off a loss. We really feel like we didn’t display our talents the way we should have last week,” Wayne said. “We get another opportunity to change that over, to kind of change some thoughts in people’s minds. ... I’m just ready to play.”