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COLTS 34, BENGALS 16

Manning, Colts get back on track

Marvin Harrison helped Indianapolis out of its funk, connecting for three of Peyton Manning's four touchdowns. Marvin Harrison helped Indianapolis out of its funk, connecting for three of Peyton Manning's four touchdowns. (AJ MAST/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning felt cuddly warm thanks to his favorite receiver.

Of course, Manning to Marvin Harrison is the surest way to get the Indianapolis Colts out of a funk.

The most prolific passing duo in NFL history tore apart the Cincinnati Bengals, combining for three touchdowns in a 34-16 victory last night.

"When your backs are against the wall, you go to that old blanket," Manning said. "I'm thankful for those guys every day. Without those two, Marvin and Reggie [Wayne] . . .

"I watch other quarterbacks in the league and none of them have two guys like that. One great receiver, but not two great receivers. It makes my job easier."

So did the Colts' maligned defense, which woke up after Indy dropped three of its last four games and yielded an incomprehensible 375 yards rushing a week ago to Jacksonville. Cincinnati gained 278 yards overall, much of it after the outcome was decided.

"The defense felt really challenged to stop the run and get the offense back on the field," Manning said. "We did a good job of staying on the field tonight and getting into a groove."

It was vintage Manning, throwing to Harrison and dominating for the AFC South champion Colts (11-3), while the Bengals (8-6) slipped back in the wild-card race with their first loss in five weeks. They'd allowed 33 points in those four wins.

Manning, 5-0 against Cincinnati, had one of the sharpest outings of his brilliant career, although he never looked deep because the Bengals couldn't cover anyone on quick-hitting routes. He was 29 of 36 for 282 yards, a 136.3 rating, and his 15th career four-touchdown outing. In addition to bringing his total TD throws to Harrison to 103, he found Wayne on an 18-yarder, and passed Vinny Testaverde for eighth place with 270 career touchdown passes.

"We have so much talent offensively, we know that at any time we can make things happen, no matter who has the ball," Wayne said. "So whenever you give him time to throw the ball, we know he'll light it up."

Manning was helped greatly by Cincinnati's inability to rush him or handle receivers coming off the line.

"That's just him," Bengals cornerback Tory James said of Manning. " He did his job, which is what he does every time."

And the Colts never let the Bengals' fourth-ranked passing attack hit stride. Dwight Freeney led the defense with three sacks and Carson Palmer was a pedestrian 14 of 28 for 176 yards.

"We went out there and proved to ourselves that we could play well," Freeney said.

The victory kept Indianapolis even with Baltimore and one game behind San Diego in the race for top record in the AFC.

The game became a poke-and-probe chess match in which Manning's patience and Harrison's polish were decisive. On the first two touchdowns, Harrison beat Cincinnati's coverage to the inside for 4- and 3-yard scores. He went the other way on the third, victimizing Deltha O'Neal for a 1-yarder that made it 24-13.

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