Manning took only one sack, but maybe most of all, once those first-series anxious moments passed, he became patient, willing to not only hand the ball off to Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes for 190 yards rushing against the Bears, but he completed 16 of his 28 passes to running backs and tight ends because the Bears were playing their safeties generally 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. South Beach might have been closer to the line of scrimmage.
So the Bears might go home thinking Manning didn't beat them, that the Colts' ability to run the ball did, but the reason they had trouble stopping a Colts team that scored only two more points (427) than the Cowboys did this season was because of how much they feared Manning. Very few eight-man fronts, because as good as this defense might be, they didn't trust their corners in that much man coverage against Marvin Harrison and Wayne. The linebackers were taking mammoth drops in the passing game, fearing those patented Colts crossing routes with their wideouts and also not wanting to get into too much man coverage on Clark, who lined up in the slot as a third receiver the majority of the snaps.
"He just kept hitting the check downs because that's what was open," Harris said. "He was patient, he was very patient. We just needed more turnovers, because that's what we do."
Well, they didn't do that this raining night, mainly because Manning didn't think he had to win the game all by himself - didn't have to throw four touchdown passes when the conditions were not conducive to doing so. Go ask poor Rex Grossman. He fumbled the ball twice, losing one, and was picked off twice, the first returned by backup corner Kelvin Hayden 56 yards to turn what was a tight game, because of the Colts having to settle for three Adam Vinatieri field goals of no more than 29 yards, into the final 12-point margin of victory.
The Colts, they didn't have to worry about Grossman the way the Bears had to worry about Manning, proving once again - can I say that one more time, once again - that offense wins in the playoffs. The Colts scored 105 points in four games, with two of those games against the big bad Bears and Ravens.
That's the Manning point of all this.
But to Manning's credit, he didn't throw around I-told-you-so's afterward. All four times after he was asked if this Super Bowl victory validated his greatness as a quarterback, if he needed this win to get the monkey off his back, he politely deferred, allowing his head coach to say, "He's one of the greatest players to play in the game."
As for him, Manning said, "I don't play that. I don't do that."
Then again, "I don't play that card, I don't believe in that (monkey), I don't. I really don't know what that is. I'm proud to be the quarterback of this team . . . I'm proud to do my part."
And when asked if this win finally separates him from local hero Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL never to win a Super Bowl, Manning said, "I don't think that's a fair comparison to Marino because he's still way up there . . . our team won."
That was the point of this night. Maybe it was the Colts who validated themselves. For after all, this had been a hard journey for them as Dungy would try to document, talking about getting eliminated from the playoffs one year because of giving up 41 points (to the Jets) and losing once at home (last year to Pittsburgh) and those back-to-back eliminations at New England.
"So I'm just proud of our team because we showed we can win any number of ways," Dungy said.
He meant, most of all, not having to depend solely on Manning. This is football, right, not tennis or golf.
Because his defense was playing so well, holding the Bears to only 265 yards - 134 in the fourth quarter - and never fearing they could drive the field, the Colts could afford to settle for those field goals inside the red zone, not having to gamble, even on third down inside the 10 three times. Vinatieri's four field-goal attempts - he missed one from 26 to end the first half - came from the 11, 1, 6 and 7.
The Colts, after getting burned by Hester on the opening kickoff, didn't kick him another one, willing to dribble