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The Winning Edge The rushing of Edgerrin James makes the Colts' play- action offense doubly potent

Colts 38 Chiefs 31

RUNNING BACK Edgerrin James sidled up to quarterback Peyton
Manning at halftime of the Indianapolis Colts' AFC divisional
playoff at Kansas City on Sunday and offered an observation:
Chiefs linebacker Shawn Barber was overreacting to Manning's
reads after the snap, roaming downfield and leaving James open in
the flat. Should Manning need him, James would be waiting. While
James has never been one to demand the ball, his observation paid
off late in the game. With Indy hanging on to a 38-31 lead and
facing second-and-five from its 38-yard line with 3:31 to play,
Manning saw James alone along the left sideline and hit him for a
16-yard gain. That catch, plus 17 rushing yards by James on the
final drive, enabled the Colts to all but run out the clock and
move on to the AFC Championship Game against the New England
Patriots this Sunday. "The way P-Money's been playing," James
later said of his quarterback, "of course he'd find me. I guess I
was just wasting my breath [at halftime]."

Daring and decisive--and playing about as well as a quarterback
can play for the second postseason week in a row--Manning
eviscerated Kansas City's secondary with 22 completions (in 30
attempts) for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Unfazed by the
Arrowhead Stadium crowd noise, he constantly audibled at the line
by mixing hand signals with his shouts over the din. And the
Colts' play-action offense was made all the more effective by the
rushing of James, who rambled for 125 yards and two touchdowns on
26 carries. "We were able to do everything today because of our
play action, and that was all Edge," Manning said later. "He was
awesome out there, wasn't he?"

James's performance stood in stark contrast to his last game at
Arrowhead, in October 2001, when his career took a sudden
downturn. After leading the NFL in rushing in each of his first
two seasons, James suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during a
twisting tackle by Kansas City linebacker Marvcus Patton in the
fourth quarter. He missed the last 10 games of that season and
still wasn't at full strength last year, when he rushed for 989
yards in 14 games. He bounced back this season and grew stronger
each week, finishing with 1,259 yards and 11 touchdowns. "I'm a
smarter back now," says James. "I'm more into moving the chains
than always trying to hit a big play. Like on that catch--I was
selling Barber [on earlier routes] that I'm just lazy, and then
Peyton put it right in there."

James also puts his teammates at ease with a relaxed vibe that's
the perfect complement to Manning's exacting ways. "Having Peyton
to worry about every detail makes our jobs easier," wideout
Brandon Stokley says. "And having Edge means you'll be laughing

Entering the week, the snickers were coming from those who
thought Manning would be unable to audible at Arrowhead, where
the Chiefs had won 13 straight. "[The crowd noise] was never a
problem," Manning said, "because we've spent so much time
preparing to overcome things like that." He devises his own set
of hand signals and doesn't reveal them to teammates until a
meeting he runs the afternoon before a game. The coaches remain
largely in the dark. "He checks off in a game," says Colts coach
Tony Dungy, "and I'll ask [offensive coordinator] Tom Moore,
'What's he calling now?'"

Indianapolis scored on six of its first seven possessions, gained
434 yards, averaged 6.9 yards per play and had 20 plays of 10
yards or more. The Colts had no offensive penalties and for the
second straight game did not punt.

After Indy had brought a grisly end to a Kansas City season that
began with nine straight wins and so much promise, James was
asked about the next game at New England and having to play
before a hostile crowd, as an underdog again. "I don't want to
talk about that," he said, obviously satisfied with his team's
performance under similar conditions against the Chiefs. "What's
the point?"

--Josh Elliott

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES TWO HARD TO STOP Either James (32) or Manning had a hand in 429of the Colts' 434 yards of offense.