Key to AFC victory? Solid Manning

Peyton Manning capped his MVP year with yet another MVP trophy.

Updated: February 15, 2005, 3:30 PM ET
By James C. Black | ESPN.com

HONOLULU -- Peyton Manning had an untimely hiccup to his record-setting season when he and the Colts were held without a touchdown in the AFC divisional loss at New England last month. Not surprisingly, the Indianapolis quarterback got back on track in the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

Peyton Manning
Quarterback
Indianapolis Colts
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Comp PaTD RuTD Int Rat
497 336 49 0 10 121.1

Manning, who threw 49 touchdown passes in the 2004 campaign to break Hall of Famer Dan Marino's single-season mark, tossed three first-half scores and was named player of the game as the AFC defeated the NFC, 38-27, at Aloha Stadium.

Manning, who was the league's co-MVP with Tennessee's Steve McNair last year, became the first quarterback since Joe Theismann in 1983 to win both the league's and Pro Bowl's MVP honors.

"I'm sure he mentioned that on the air," Manning joked when he learned of the rare feat.

But defending Manning was no laughing matter for the NFC.

The first score had a familiar ring: Manning to Marvin Harrison. Indianapolis' star wideout got by his defender, caught Manning's pass in stride and out-raced all pursuers for a 62-yard touchdown with 8:33 left in the opening quarter.

"It was a skinny post and obviously it's a timing throw," Manning said. "With Marvin, I can throw that with my eyes closed."

That's probably about the only thing Manning didn't achieve in the first half.

On the AFC's next possession, Manning was on the front end of another long strike. This time, he connected with Pittsburgh's Hines Ward for a 41-yard touchdown.

"He's one of the best in the business. There's a reason why he threw 49 touchdowns," said Ward, who later scored a special teams touchdown in the contest. "It's always great to catch [the ball] from a guy like him, especially in the Pro Bowl."

As if he doesn't already have enough targets at his disposal, Manning later joked that it would be great to have Ward as part of his arsenal in Indianapolis, but the receiver quickly pointed out that he has another year left on his contract.

Manning played most of the first half. He capped his strong performance with a 12-yard scoring pass to Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Manning finished the game on 6 of 10 passing for 130 yards with no interceptions.

"Our team [had] a lot of weapons and this is a heck of a place to play quarterback," said Manning, playing in his fifth Pro Bowl.

Ever the competitor, Manning got nervous in the second half when the NFC rallied from a 21-point deficit to narrow the score to 28-24. He remembers vividly last year when the NFC rallied from being down 25 points in the second half to win, 55-52.

"I'm not going to say I wasn't holding my breath when [Michael] Vick started rolling around," Manning acknowledged on a fourth-quarter drive in which the NFC was forced to settle for a field goal. "But our defense did a great job of stopping them there."

When the contest ended, Manning was named MVP during a presentation at midfield. And while another trophy was nice, he had his eyes on the Cadillac station wagon that he was also presented. However, there's one dilemma.

"I've gotta try to find a way to get it back to Indianapolis. I don't know how that works," Manning joked. "That trophy's nice, but I was asking where the keys were."

James C. Black is an NFL Editor for ESPN.com and may be reached at james.black@espn3.com.

ALSO SEE