INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Peyton Manning is making the touchdowns look easy, and the Indianapolis offense is again scoring points by the dozens.

Yes, the Colts are finally playing like their old selves.

After enduring nearly a month of slow starts, missed opportunities, struggles and questions, the Indy offense has gotten back in sync just in time for the playoffs.

“I thought we’d been playing better the last few weeks, really since the second quarter of the Atlanta game,” coach Tony Dungy said Monday. “We kept it going against Jacksonville. Then last (Sunday), so much of it is poise and identifying where they are and picking up blitzes. If you do that, you know you’re going to have a chance to make big plays.”

Which, of course, the Colts executed perfectly at Baltimore.

Despite running a season-low 49 plays, Indianapolis (11-2) still hung 44 points on a defense once considered one of the league’s best. It was a stark contrast to last January’s playoff game in which the Colts failed to score a touchdown and settled for five field goals in a 15-6 victory at Baltimore.

Part of the explanation for Sunday’s breakout performance, in which Manning threw four touchdown passes in just 17 attempts, was because the Ravens were without either of their starting cornerbacks. Baltimore also appeared to be reeling after a last-minute loss to New England the previous Monday.

But it was every bit as much about the Colts taking advantage of their chances.

A rash of injuries left Indy without either of its starting tackles, Tony Ugoh and Ryan Diem, the previous couple of weeks, and Manning played six games without his favorite receiver, perennial Pro Bowler Marvin Harrison.

During that span, Manning & Co. looked ordinary.

On Sunday, with Harrison and Diem still out, everything changed.

Manning moved around in the pocket long enough to take advantage of his open receivers and threw three TD passes of at least 34 yards.

“You feel like any time a team is without its two starting corners, it’s still football and you’ve got to go after whoever is in there,” Manning said after the game.

Throughout November, opponents had been more successful going after Manning.

In a 24-20 loss to New England, the Super Bowl MVP fumbled twice, losing one, and threw an interception. The next week, Manning broke the franchise record by throwing six interceptions in a 23-21 loss at San Diego.

The trend continued against Kansas City and Atlanta, which combined for six sacks and two more interceptions, leaving many to question what was wrong.

Apparently, it just took time to work out the kinks.

Over the past two games, against Jacksonville and Baltimore, Manning has thrown eight touchdowns against one interception and finished with passer ratings better than 126.

One difference has been the emergence of rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez, Indy’s top draft pick in April. He caught the first two TD passes of his career at Baltimore and produced his first two 100-yard games in the past three weeks.

“We’ve been able to settle down,” Dungy said. “Anthony has gotten comfortable in his role outside, and we’re running the ball well. I think guys understand what they have to do.”

The timing couldn’t be better, either.

The Colts extended the league’s best active postseason achievement to eight playoff appearances in nine years with Sunday’s 44-20 rout, and are now on the cusp of winning a fifth straight division title. A combination of an Indianapolis win and a Pittsburgh loss this week would also assure the Colts the AFC’s No. 2 seed and that coveted first-round bye.

Plus, Indy has three more weeks to make refinements and get Diem and Harrison healthy heading into the playoffs.

So will the re-emergence of Indy’s high-scoring offense be enough to defend its Super Bowl title? Perhaps.

“Getting everybody involved has been good to see,” Dungy said. “Us moving the ball and scoring in different ways and different people contributing, I think we’re hitting our stride at the right time.”


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