The Colts offense rolled through the Minnesota defense, the Colts defense knocked out two Minnesota Pro Bowl players quarterback Daunte Culpepper and tackle Korey Stringer and Indianapolis captured its second straight playoff berth with a 31-10 victory over the Vikings.
"It would have been easy to give up," Peyton Manning said. "But everybody kept saying we have a chance, and that's all you want is a chance. And now that you're in it, no one remembers how you got there."
Although this remarkable run, which set up a game at Miami on Saturday at 12:30 p.m., will be hard to forget.
Just three weeks ago, any playoff date seemed an implausible prospect for Indianapolis (10-6).
But the Colts strung together victories over Buffalo and Miami to stave off elimination, and watched the Jets lose three straight games, the last coming shortly after the Colts started Sunday.
"After we got beat by New York up there, we never stopped believing," Manning said. "But we were really down. We knew what the facts were; we had to win three games and had to have some other things happen."
The scenario played straight into the Colts' hands, and they got one of their finest all-around performances this season.
Manning threw for a career-high four touchdowns and 283 yards as he broke Johnny Unitas' 41-year-old club record for touchdown passes in a season. Manning finished with 33, one more than Unitas had in 1959, to lead th NFL.
Edgerrin James rushed for 128 yards, accounted for 207 total yards and scored one touchdown to set an NFL record for touchdowns by a player in his first two seasons. James also broke Eric Dickerson's single-season club record for yards rushing and Marshall Faulk's single-season club record for total yards. He won the NFL rushing title with 1,709 yards and finished with 2,303 total yards.
Marvin Harrison also played a major role. He caught 12 passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns, his first 100-yard performance in eight weeks, and finished with 102 receptions, the most in the NFL.
"We're in the playoffs because we had a mentality that we could still get in," Harrison said. "Others may have counted us out, but we felt we had to do whatever it takes to win football games. Things went our way."
The Colts made sure they did, and not just on offense.
The defense played just as superbly in a game that was meaningless to the Vikings (11-5), who have lost three straight. After Tampa Bay and New Orleans both lost, Minnesota had clinched both the NFC Central title and a bye in the first round.
Yet Minnesota started Culpepper, and after three series, the Colts had knocked him out.
"It was very important for Daunte to play," Dennis Green said. "The ankle will not heal in a four-week period of time. He needs to understand what he can and cannot do. You can't do that in practice. We wanted him to get some game time, but not a lot."
Because of that, at least in part, Minnesota managed a meager 236 total yards the first time Minnesota gained fewer than 300 in 32 games.
And it was that way from the start.
After Minnesota went three-and-out to open the game, Manning led the Colts on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Harrison.
Minnesota answered with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Culpepper to Randy Moss, tying the score at 7.
But Indianapolis regained the lead on James' 52-yard touchdown reception.
Following Gary Anderson's 31-yard field goal, Manning hooked up on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Harrison, and the Vikings didn't score again.
"We had to find (the playoffs) the tough way," linebacker Cornellius Bennett said. "We had to come and win three straight football games against some tough teams. ... We came out and played some of the best defensive football I've seen in a long time."
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