Manning is seeking to validate top career
Another big game loss will tarnish his mostly solid legacy.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The word Peyton Manning constantly hears is "validate."
He even uses it himself sometimes -- as in having to "validate" his otherwise brilliant career by winning a Super Bowl.
So here he was Friday, on the threshold of his second AFC title game, once more answering questions about his playoff failures.
"What's happened in the past is what happened in the past, and things are what they are," he said as the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots went through final preparations for Sunday's AFC championship game.
"People talk about your legacy. That really is a deep word to me. This week I've just focused on the fact that we're playing New England in a championship game.
"The Patriots' defense gives you more to concentrate on than your own place in history, so that's what I'm dealing with."
This is the third time in the past four seasons that the Colts and Patriots are meeting in the playoffs and New England has won the first two, both in Foxborough.
The first was in the 2003 conference title game, a 24-14 loss in which Manning threw four interceptions. The second was 20-3 in a second-round game the next year when the Patriots' defense shut down the Colts' offense.
New England won the Super Bowl both seasons.
The Colts have gotten over that hump a bit with regular-season victories, both on the road. They beat the Patriots 40-21 in 2005 and 27-20 on Nov. 5, putting up enough points to dispel the idea that Manning can't do well against Bill Belichick's defenses.
His teammates also pooh-pooh the idea that their two-time MVP quarterback "can't win the big game."
"I've played with him in a lot of games that I thought were big games and he's come through," wide receiver Reggie Wayne said Friday. "Who decides what's a big game?"
Praise from Brady
His New England counterpart said the same.
"Peyton is a great quarterback. We all know that," Tom Brady said. "He's not someone you want to stand on the sideline and watch with the ball at the end of the game because you know what he can do."
The knocks on Manning stem in part from the comparison to Brady.
The New England quarterback is 12-1 in the playoffs and has won three titles with the Patriots, twice driving them into range for the winning field goal in the final seconds. That has won him two Super Bowl MVP awards.
Manning has two regular-season MVP trophies and a host of NFL records, including 49 touchdown passes in 2004.
But his postseason won-lost mark is just 5-6 and this year he has thrown just one touchdown pass with five interceptions in wins over Kansas City and Baltimore.
He noted after the 15-6 win over the Ravens last week that he would take five more picks in the next two games if the Colts won them because that would mean they'd have a Super Bowl victory.
That's where the world "validate" comes in again.
Manning's coach, Tony Dungy, has a regular-season winning percentage of .644 and is still trying to get to his first Super Bowl. He has coached teams to championship games in both conferences and has a Super Bowl ring as a player with the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers.
He noted during the week that like it or not, quarterbacks are defined by titles, noting that Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana are singled out for their Super Bowl wins and that Dan Fouts and Dan Marino, also Hall of Famers, are there despite winning a ring.
Manning is 30 and has time to make it into the former category rather than the latter. But he also is aware that nothing is guaranteed in an era of free agency and the salary cap, noting that teams change quickly -- there are just 18 Colts left from the team that lost the AFC title game three years ago.
That's why he thinks in the present.
"There's nothing we can do to change the outcome of those games," he said. "I think one thing this team has been able to do is bounce back from what happened the year before and the year before that."
The next test comes Sunday evening. Could validation be on the horizon?
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