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Original Issue

Advantage, Manning Bad as he's been, Peyton has edge on Leaf

Goofus and Gallant squared off in Indianapolis on Sunday. Score
one for courtliness and good manners. Polite Peyton Manning
notched his first NFL victory in leading the Colts to a 17-12
win over the San Diego Chargers, quarterbacked by the
tantrum-prone Ryan Leaf. Both completed 12 of 23 passes, both
were relieved to have been intercepted only once. (Manning threw
a touchdown pass, Leaf didn't.) Both remained in character when
asked to recount their postgame chat.

Manning: "I said, 'Good luck, see you down the road.'"

Leaf [with attitude]: "That's personal."

Our young heroes had been hemorrhaging turnovers before turning
in fair performances on Sunday. Leaf came into the game with
eight interceptions, three lost fumbles and a near-freezing
quarterback rating of 32.1. Manning's 11 interceptions were the
most in the league; his dozen turnovers had led to 59 points by
Colts foes--19 more than Indy had scored altogether.

While both have put up some gruesome numbers, it is safe to say,
five games into their first season, that one is ahead of the
other. In fact, Manning is ahead of all other AFC quarterbacks
in passing yards, with 1,129. In terms of reading defenses,
running through receiver options and seeing the whole field,
Leaf versus Manning is "no contest," according to former
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. Jaws, who was at
the RCA Dome, was surprised by how much more zip Manning has on
his passes than he did last year and was impressed by his
ability to master a system that's more complex than the one Leaf
is running. That Manning is succeeding comes as no surprise to
former 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who served as a consultant to the
Colts when they were deciding which of the young guns to draft.
"Manning had played an extra season in a more intense program,
had totally mastered his position," Walsh says. "He was probably
the best prepared quarterback ever to enter the NFL. But he's
still struggled."

Thank the NFL Competition Committee for that. In its zeal to
infuse the game with increased offense, that august body has
forced defenses to respond with ever more perverse torments. "We
have so many wrinkles, even we get confused out there," says
Colts defensive tackle Ellis Johnson.

Manning will be the first to tell you he has plenty of work to
do. He has thrown more balls into coverage than might have been
expected from the holder of the NCAA record for lowest
percentage of interceptions over a career. What's up with those
forced throws? "I give credit to the defenses, but I don't give
'em too much credit," he says. "I make mistakes, I shoulder the
responsibility. I expect to play better."

Both quarterbacks could use a little more help from their
friends. Leaf had a sweet 45-yard scoring pass wiped out because
right tackle Vaughn Parker lined up too far off the line of
scrimmage. On the game's first play Manning's rope to Marvin
Harrison hit the third-year wideout between the numbers, then
hit the turf, the first of a half dozen drops by Indy receivers.
To see this 19-penalty game was to realize that the rookie
quarterbacks of the Chargers and Colts have struggled in large
part because they play for the Chargers and Colts.

"Nothing's really coming easy for us right now," Manning said
after the game. "We kept fighting, and we found a way to win."
As he walked off the field after his little confab with Leaf,
Manning was asked if he'd given his fellow rookie a pep talk.
"Pep talk?" said Manning. "Hey, he's the one with two wins."

--Austin Murphy

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Growing Manning has picked up the Colts' complex system. [Peyton Manning throwing pass in game]