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Mismatch favors Colts' Wayne

At some point, someone on the Broncos sideline should have realized what the Colts' offensive minds figured out pretty early in Sunday's wild-card playoff game at the RCA Dome:

Rookie cornerback Roc Alexander could not handle Colts receiver Reggie Wayne. Not early. Not late. And apparently, not any time soon.

Wayne routinely torched the undrafted rookie out of Washington, catching the first five passes thrown to him and pretty much everything else that came his way.

"It was a matchup we thought we could take advantage of," Wayne said. "We wanted to start out fast and that's what we did. We wanted to keep making plays and let them know I'd be there all day."

By the end of the first half, Wayne had eight receptions for 167 yards, including a 49 yard-reception, a 35-yard touchdown catch and a 20-yarder that set up another touchdown to make the score 35-3 at halftime. The fourth-year player out of Miami finished with 10 catches for 221 yards, setting a franchise record for receiving yards in a playoff game.

"(Roc's) a little inexperienced and he's kind of learning on the job," Broncos coach Mike Shanahansaid.

"I've got a lot of confidence in him down the road, but he went up against an excellent receiver and a quarterback that knows how to get him the football."

Through the bulk of the first half, the Colts' other Pro Bowl receiver, Marvin Harrison, was blanketed by All-Pro corner Champ Bailey, but quarterback Peyton Manning improvised and turned to Wayne for an answer.

"Reggie had a lot of fun," running back Edgerrin James said. "Reggie had a whole lot of fun."

NO LASTING EFFECTS: Blown up by a crushing blow from JohnLynch in the regular-season finale, Colts tight end Dallas Clark didn't seem to suffer any lingering effects. The second-year player might have been inspired by the tackle and opened the game with a series of critical catches to help the Colts take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Clark had three catches for 63 yards in the quarter. On the Colts' third possession, Clark's 31-yard catch and run down the middle resulted in a first down at the Denver 5. The Colts went up 14-0 two plays later on James' 1-yard run.

"It was my first playoff game and that was my motivation right there," said Clark, who had six catches for 112 yards and a score. "This is what you play for.

"I was unable to play last year, and I wanted to help the team out as much as possible."

STILL KICKING: Former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica, cut during the season after struggling for the better part of the past two years, has found a home with his old coach, Tony Dungy.

Picked up Dec. 8, Gramatica has been the Colts' kickoff specialist, a job that keeps the legs of field goal kicker Mike Vanderjagt fresh.

While this was a dismal season for the former Bucs' third-round pick, it isn't ending badly. For winning the wild-card round, Gramatica earned an $18,000 bonus check. A win in New England next week will earn him another $18,000.

BITS 'N PIECES: Upon further review, maybe Dungy will grow to like the idea of challenging reviewable calls. A strong opponent of the instant replay challenge format, the Colts benefited from it when officials reversed their call of a 20-yard pass from Jake Plummer to Ashley Lelie in the first half.

_ ROGER MILLS, Times staff writer

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