INDIANAPOLIS - Manning to Harrison is the surest way to get the Indianapolis Colts out of a funk.
The most prolific passing duo in NFL history tore apart the Cincinnati Bengals, combining for three touchdowns in a 34-16 victory Monday night. even the Colts' maligned defense woke up after Indy dropped three of its past four games and yielded 375 yards rushing a week ago to Jacksonville.
It was vintage Peyton Manning throwing to his favorite target, Marvin Harrison, that dominated what was expected to be a shootout. The rest of the AFC South champion Colts (11-3) did their part, and the Bengals (8-6) slipped back in the wild-card race with their first loss in five weeks. They had allowed 33 points in those four wins, one less than Indy scored Monday night.
Manning, 5-0 against Cincinnati, had one of the sharpest outings of his brilliant career, even though he never looked deep because the Bengals couldn't cover anyone on quick-hitting routes. He was 29-for-36 for 282 yards, had a 136.3 rating, and picked up his 15th career four-touchdown outing.
In addition to bringing his total touchdown throws to Harrison to 103, he found Reggie Wayne on an 18-yarder and passed Vinny Testaverde for eighth place with 270 career touchdown passes.
He was helped greatly by Cincinnati's inability to rush him or handle receivers coming off the line.
The Colts also came alive defensively, never letting the Bengals' fourth-ranked passing attack hit its stride.
Dwight Freeney led the defense with three sacks, and Carson Palmer was a pedestrian 14-for-28 for 176 yards.
The victory kept Indianapolis even with Baltimore and one game behind San Diego in the race for the top record in the AFC. Cincinnati is tied with the Jaguars, Jets and Broncos for the two AFC wild-card berths.
Manning's patience and Harrison's polish were decisive. They displayed what has made them the most potent pass-catch combination in NFL history with their three short scoring connections.
On the first two, Harrison beat Cincinnati's coverage to the inside for 4- and 3-yard touchdowns. He went the other way on the third, victimizing Deltha O'Neal for a 1-yard score that made it 24-13.
Cincinnati's fourth-ranked passing attack managed 17 yards in the first half.