By BARRY WILNER
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS – Even with his favorite option, Marvin Harrison, shut down early, Peyton Manning was unstoppable Sunday.
Almost everywhere else Manning looked, he saw something he liked.
Manning simply turned to Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in building an insurmountable first-half lead. The NFL Offensive Player of the Year had 457 yards passing, second most in playoffs history, in Indianapolis' 49-24 victory over Denver.
“We have guys who have been there before and they do well in pressure situations,” Manning said. “Everyone just settles down and we execute our offense and we're not overwhelmed by the moment.”
Instead, Manning was overwhelming once more. So were Wayne and Clark.
Against the overmatched Broncos (10-7), Wayne finished with 221 yards, the third most in playoff history, on 10 catches, with two touchdowns. Clark, who suffered a concussion in last week's loss at Denver, had 112 yards and a score.
“That's big, 221,” said Wayne, who admitted the receivers were inspired by Denver's defenders questioning their toughness all week. “I wanted to let them know I'd be there all day, not back down or fall to the ground.
“We jumped on them so fast they didn't have any time to say anything.”
The Colts (13-4) go to defending champion New England next Sunday for a rematch of last year's AFC title game, and they bring with them an even more diversified attack.
“We want to keep advancing and we have a tough road ahead of us,” Manning said.
The rout was reminiscent of the Colts' 41-10 romp over Denver in last year's wild-card game, when Manning was 22-for-26 for 377 yards and five touchdowns and the Colts led 31-3 at halftime. The Broncos were even worse in the first half on Sunday as Manning had a record 360 yards and three TDs at the half.
“I'm a little shocked by the way we lost,” All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey said. “I thought it would be a little closer.
“When you play against the best quarterback in the league, he is going to find some weaknesses and exploit them.”
For good measure, Manning sneaked in from the 1 with 6 seconds left in the half, making it 35-3 and drawing handshakes from nearly every teammate for his first TD rushing in more than two years.
“That's a tendency-breaker right there,” he said with a laugh. “I'd say we haven't run it in five years.”
But it was his arm, of course, that was most decisive. Manning displayed exactly how he broke Dan Marino's 20-year-old NFL mark by throwing for 49 touchdowns this season. By hitting 27 of 33 passes, his QB rating for the game, 145.7, dwarfed his record 121.1 rating for 2004.
Only Bernie Kosar in 1986 had more yards in a playoff game, and he needed double overtime to get 489.
“He was in a zone,” Wayne said. “He does a great job of putting us in the right situation.”
With Bailey soloing on Harrison, the Colts simply went the other way. On their 76-yard drive to their first touchdown. Manning picked on Kelly Herndon and rookie Roc Alexander on the other side, hitting Wayne for 41 of the yards. He also found tight end Marcus Pollard down the seam for 25 yards to the 5, then James Mungro caught a 2-yard lob to make it 7-0.
Ignoring Harrison again, Manning used his other tight end, Clark, for gains of 24 and 31 yards on the next series, an 87-yarder for a 14-0 lead. Edgerrin James surged in from the 1.
Manning was 11-for-14 for 156 yards in the opening quarter, and he found Wayne, who made a splendid catch, for another 49 yards with his first pass of the second period. But a deflected throw was intercepted by Herndon in the end zone.
No matter. Clark's 19-yard reception made it 21-0 on Indy's next possession. After Jason Elam's 33-yard field goal, the Broncos tried an onside kick that failed, and Wayne's 35-yard TD made it 28-3.
Harrison finally got going on the last drive of the half, catching two passes for 41 yards as even Bailey seemed to fall into a funk. Manning's sneak erased any doubt that the AFC South champions were advancing.
“When the playoffs come around, you definitely want be hitting on all cylinders,” Clark said. “I think we are, and the team keeps getting better every game.”
To its credit, Denver came back with Jake Plummer's TD passes of 9 yards to Rod Smith and 35 to Jeb Putzier in the third period. But Manning hit Wayne with a screen pass and the receiver did the rest for a 43-yard score short and a 42-17 lead.
Notes: Dominic Rhodes' 2-yard run finished the scoring and set a Colts playoff record of 49 points. … Plummer finished 24-for-34 for 284 yards, was sacked three times and threw an interception. … Manning has passed for three or more TDs six times this season. … James had four postseason TDs rushing, a team record. … Two Colts were injured: DE Robert Mathis sprained his knee and LB Rob Morris had a stinger. … Denver is 0-3 in the playoffs since John Elway retired after winning a second straight Super Bowl in January 1999.