Remember those predictions that the Colts' high-powered offense wouldn't be the same once the playoffs started?
They were right. Quarterback Peyton Manning, who passed for 457 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, and his stable of receivers were better.
Remember all the trash talk coming from Denver about how those receivers, such as fourth-year player Reggie Wayne, who had 221 yards and two touchdowns, liked to avoid taking a hit?
They do, avoiding it all the way to end zone.
"You have to give credit where it's due," Broncos safety John Lynch said. "This is the best offense that I have ever played against. They can only confirm that. They have a quarterback who puts them in that situation. I have never been in a game where so much has felt like, almost hopeless."
The Colts' 49-24 win in an AFC wild-card playoff game was so convincing that RCA Dome fans began wondering about the backups by the start of the third quarter.
"It was outstanding execution throughout the entire game," Manning said. "There were a lot of things being said from different directions, and all we talked about was, "Let's go out and execute.' Everybody played with poise."
And perhaps a little more passion. Gobbling up yards after the catch, Colts receivers ripped a hole through the Broncos defense large enough to plant one of the Rockies.
Not bad for a bunch of softies.
"I just wanted to let them know I was going to be there all day," said Wayne, who had the third-most receiving yards in playoff history. "I wasn't going to back down. I wasn't going to fall to the ground or whatever they said. I just wanted them to know that this would happen all day. I'd be up for it."
"Maybe we need someone to do that every week, to challenge our guys," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "I was proud of the way our guys handled that. They just set about doing their business. They know that are a tough group. They don't have to talk about it. They showed up."
And though the Broncos found enough life in the second half to put the ball in the end zone three times, the respectable score was no indication of a respectable game.
"I give Indy a lot of credit, they played a good football game," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We had to sustain some drives, move the football and try to keep them off the field. The only way to slow them down was to keep them impatient. Peyton really got in a groove and we paid the price for it."
The Colts now travel to Foxboro to face the Patriots on Sunday in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, which the Patriots won 24-14.
"I don't know if we are better equipped than last year," Dungy said. "I thought we had a good shot to win it all last year. I think we learned a lot from that experience. We're a little bit more mature, a little bit more confident team."
If the Patriots were paying attention, they saw Manning, the likely league MVP, continue his passing mastery. After setting an NFL single-season record this season with 49 touchdowns, Manning completed 27 of 33 Sunday. His 457 yards set a franchise postseason mark and rank second in NFL history for passing yards in a postseason game. He added a 1-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
In the telling first half, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year was 21-of-27 for 360 yards and had three touchdowns. It was the sixth time this season Manning had at least three touchdowns in a first half.
"He plays well in big games," Dungy said. "We're glad he is on our side."
The Patriots likely have taken notice of Wayne, a former Miami star whose emergence this season makes the prospect of containing the Colts attack so much more than just holding down Marvin Harrison.
Wayne's career effort blistered a Denver secondary that was boosted all season by the acquisition of Lynch and All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey.
"Every time I do something, it seems like it's my career best," Wayne said. "I'm always asking myself how I do it. But I'm just glad that Peyton and Coach Dungy believed in me. I just wanted to make something happen."
The Patriots also might have seen something in the Colts defense. Steamed by the leaguewide perception it isn't as strong as it needs to be, the Colts defense cradled the Broncos passing game and rendered the running game relatively ineffective for the bulk of the first half.
Denver finished with 338 yards, but 235 came in the second half when the lead was 32 points.
"We were 0-6 on third downs in the first half," Shanahan said. "And when you're 0-6, you can't keep drives going. (They) played the same defense. They didn't try to hide anything, and they just played very solidly."
The Colts held the Broncos to 78 yards rushing, recorded an interception, threw several bone-jarring hits and sacked Jake Plummer three times.
"I felt that we were dominating at times in every area," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We kind of laid back a little bit in the second half knowing that we had such a big lead and we figured they'd be doing a couple of different things."