Maybe now, after routing the New England Patriots 40-21 on Monday night, they'll admit this could be a super season.
Manning shrugged off his 0-7 record at Foxboro with an intelligent dissection of the two-time defending champions. Aided by star running back Edgerrin James' 104 yards on 34 carries, and 100-yard receiving games from Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Manning kept the Colts perfect through eight games, the NFL's only undefeated team.
Instead of concentrating on this game the way much of the nation was, Manning spent his bye week watching brother Eli quarterback the Giants against Washington, then attending a Halloween party thrown by Eli. Peyton's getup: Elvis.
"Nobody recognized it was me, either," he said with a hardy laugh -- perhaps the first time he's ever smiled after a game in Massachusetts. "I guess my secret is out."
Whatever secret formula the Patriots held against Indianapolis wasn't evident this time. Manning believed jumping in front was crucial.
"We wanted to execute and get a lead on this team. We haven't had a lead on this team in a long time," Manning said. "The idea is to try to dictate to the defense."
New England still leads the AFC East, which doesn't put them within shouting distance of the Colts, who looked mature, savvy and resourceful, all elements they have lacked against the Pats in recent years.
The last time Indianapolis was here, in January, it managed all of three points in a divisional playoff game. This time, the Colts' vastly upgraded defense hit harder and forced the pace, while the offense was versatile and unflappable.
"I think we are more of a team and kind of feed off each other," Manning said. "It's definitely the best camaraderie we've had since I've been here eight years."
The Colts, who have downplayed their great start this season, were so skillful this night they even forced Bill Belichick into some desperate measures. After Daniel Graham turned a tight end screen into a 31-yard touchdown midway in the third quarter, New England's coach ordered an onside kick. It was recovered by the Colts' Joseph Jefferson, who advanced it to the Patriots 22.
Indianapolis managed only Mike Vanderjagt 's 35-yard field goal, and Belichick remained emboldened. The Patriots went for a fourth-and-4 at the Indy 43, but Brady threw too low for David Givens.
"It's pitiful. It's embarrassing," linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "We've got to get it right and we've got to get it right fast.
"They showed why they're pretty much the best team in the league."
Vanderjagt added a 20-yard field goal before Manning capped it with an on-the-run throw that descended directly into Harrison's hands in the end zone despite tight coverage by Asante Samuel.
Harrison had nine catches for 128 yards and Wayne had nine for 124. The Colts held the ball for 36:41.
The offensive showcase began immediately when Manning hit Harrison for 48 yards, then threw him a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone over Samuel for a 1-yard touchdown.
"That play to Marvin was really big," Manning said.
New England tied it on a 16-yard TD catch by Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, but James' 2-yard run made it 14-7.
Nearing the end of the half, New England unnerved Manning for perhaps the only time with a blitz. Manning unwisely threw off his back foot to avoid a sack and Mike Vrabel picked it off at the Patriots 47.
New England returned the favor, however, after reaching the Indy 17. Bob Sanders knocked the ball out of Corey Dillon 's hands directly to Jason David.
Using the hurry-up offense to perfection, Manning took up nearly all the remaining 2:07 on a nine-play, 73-yard drive. He capped it by hitting Wayne with a precise pass into the left corner of the end zone for a 10-yard TD just 9 seconds before halftime, making it 21-7.
After New England held the ball a mere 29 seconds after the second-half kickoff, Manning engineered an 11-play, 60-yard series highlighted by the two-time MVP's 18-yard scramble on third-and-5. Dominic Rhodes ran in from the 4.