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Broncos hope it's finally their turn to end Colts' mastery

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Denver Broncos have pulled out their old script this week.

Stop Peyton Manning. Contain Indianapolis' Pro Bowl receiving tandem. Plug holes against a strong Colts feature back.

Forgive Denver if the mere mention of Manning and the Colts rekindles some horrible images: Marvin Harrison getting up between two Broncos defenders and sprinting for a touchdown; back-to-back playoff routs; even Mike Vanderjagt's two field goals in a snowstorm.

All the Broncos really want is another chance at their nemesis.

"When I got here, that was the first question I was asked, 'Do you think you were drafted to stop Peyton Manning?' " Denver cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "Whether I was or I wasn't, it's important. That's why we're all here, to knock off the champs."

Foxworth, a third-year player, has been around long enough to understand.

Sunday marks the seventh time under Tony Dungy that the Colts (3-0) have faced Denver. The scoreboard reads Colts 4, Broncos 2, although the last Denver win in 2004 was tainted by Indy's decision to yank the starters after one series.

A third straight 3-0 start and a league-best 17-2 September record under Dungy has the Colts recognizing the advantages of a quick start.

"We've had some great games with Denver over the years, and the key has always been who gets off to a good start and gets a good running game going," Dungy said. "Usually, whoever starts best wins."

So in an effort to change the ending, Denver (2-1) is bringing a new cast to the RCA Dome.

Quarterback Jay Cutler has taken over at quarterback and returns to his home state, and the site where he won a high school football championship, albeit with a sore ankle.

Denver also added Travis Henry, who ran for more than 200 yards in two games against the Colts last year while playing with Tennessee.

Ex-Colts receiver Brandon Stokley has given his new team, the Broncos, the maturity, hands and route-running skills that made him a fan favorite in Indy. Not to mention some much-needed insight into the Colts' inner workings.

It's the fourth straight week Indy has faced a former player, and Stokley expects Manning to make some adjustments.

"He guards his signals pretty closely, he doesn't want those to get out," Stokley said. "They've got signals for everything, though, and he'll change them up if he thinks somebody hears them on TV. So, I'm sure they'll have a few wrinkles in their game plan."

Defensively, the Broncos (2-1) are struggling for answers.

They have yielded 166 yards rushing per game to the likes of Buffalo, Oakland and Jacksonville, a task that could become more complicated if safety John Lynch (groin) cannot play. If Lynch is out, Foxworth would likely take Lynch's spot.

And while run defense is the obvious weakness, All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey figures Manning will still throw his share of passes against a team he's torched for nearly 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games. Manning's passer ratings were higher than 138 in each of the last two Denver games, when the Colts scored a total of 83 points.

"They're definitely going to throw the ball, but they obviously have a good running back and we haven't stopped the run all year," Bailey said. "So I know they're going to do that. ... One thing about him (Manning), he'll exploit you if you mess up and we don't need that."

The Colts, meanwhile, return to the RCA Dome where they haven't lost in the regular season since Dec. 18, 2005 and are on the verge of tying a club record with their 11th straight regular season home win.

Indy also has a new wrinkle. Its revamped defense has allowed a paltry 3.7 yards per carry this season, a major improvement over last year's 5.3 mark, and is allowing nearly five points fewer per game.

That's still not good enough for the Colts.

"I think our run defense is definitely getting better," Freeney said. "We've really tried to focus on consistency, and that's something we've been doing every day since training camp."

While Indy believes Denver will provide a tough test for its new tough, physical style, the Broncos realize they must follow the script.

Or suffer an old fate.

"They're the best pass offense in the league, maybe ever," Foxworth said. "They've broken a lot of records. ... We feel like we have the best pass defense, so we're looking forward to matching up."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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