INDIANAPOLIS - Peyton Manning has won two league MVP awards, a Super Bowl MVP and could eventually break most of the NFL's significant career passing records. Most consider him one of the two best quarterbacks in today's game.
He's certainly not infallible.
At San Diego last week, Manning set the one franchise record he never wanted, most interceptions in a single game, with six. After the league's top pupil did his usual film review this week, Manning came to one conclusion: all six were his fault.
"It was just poor decisions and poor throws on my part," he said. "Certainly, there's plenty to learn from, from that game."
For usually Perfect Peyton, talking about mistakes is a rarity.
After throwing only four interceptions in the Colts' first eight games, he doubled that total in 16 minutes against the Chargers. When the nightmare finally ended, he had thrown more than half of last year's total in a single game, and his 10 interceptions this year match the highest total he's thrown since 2002.
Some took the rare opportunity to pick on Manning by replaying other forgettable games, such as his four-interception day in the 2003 AFC championship game at New England. Or Jim Mora's famous blowup after another four-interception game against San Francisco in 2001. Most remember that one because Mora started shrieking "playoffs?"
Others contend Sunday's performance was nothing more than an aberration.
"You look at that and say there's no more cookies left in that jar," Kansas City coach Herman Edwards said. "He probably won't throw another one until next year, so you tell the guys don't worry about it because he won't throw another one."
The game hardly puts Manning in a class by himself.
In the 2001 playoffs, Green Bay's Brett Favre threw six interceptions against St. Louis. Ken Stabler threw six against Denver in 1977. Even former Colts quarterback John Unitas threw five interceptions in a game four times.
While Manning blamed himself, there was plenty to go around.
The first interception, in the end zone, came when backup receiver Aaron Moorehead appeared not to cut hard enough to the right and the ball wound up in Antonio Cromartie's hands.
Moorehead, who started Sunday because Marvin Harrison (bruised left knee) and Anthony Gonzalez (dislocated left thumb) were out with injuries, acknowledged he has not been himself the last two weeks.
"I've kind of played a little tense," Moorehead said. "I haven't played loose like I normally do, and I have to get myself together and get back to playing the way I know how to play. That's calm, relaxed and having fun."
The second interception came when Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne didn't appear to come back to the ball. He was criticized on the broadcast for not running hard or expecting the throw.
But Manning refused to pin the performance on his receivers or the injuries that have decimated Indianapolis' offense.
The Colts (7-2) played without three of their top four receivers Sunday, plus Manning's blind-side protector, left tackle Tony Ugoh. By the second half, both of Indy's regular starting tackles, along with Ugoh's backup, Charlie Johnson, were out with injuries. That forced Indy to move right guard Jake Scott to tackle.
"It was a combination of probably everything," coach Tony Dungy said Monday. "They put pressure on us, some of the throws we were trying to give the receivers a chance to make a play. It's uncharacteristic of us to throw six interceptions, so I'm not too worried about it."
Neither is team president Bill Polian.
In a postgame interview on local television station WTHR, Polian repeatedly expressed frustration that interceptions were even an issue.
"Keep on coming, keep on fighting, that's the one I'll get annoyed about. Don't tell me about picks," Polian said. "He's fighting, those guys up front are fighting, the receivers are fighting. We got plenty enough done to win this game, picks or no picks."
Despite all the mistakes, Manning still rallied Indianapolis and set up his team for a go-ahead 29-yard field goal in the final minutes. Had Adam Vinatieri, the league's best clutch kicker, made the field goal, Manning's game may well have been forgotten.
Instead, all he did was show the world he's human.
"We need to correct our mistakes, correct my mistakes and be better from it," he said.
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