The Stare means Manning wants Wayne to change his route on the fly. Don't run that 7-yard hitch; run a post pattern. Or, don't run that post; make it a corner route.
And off Wayne will go. Such sight adjustments, based on Manning's reads of opposing defenses, are commonplace in the Colts' attack, a melding of intuition between receivers and quarterback that is the heart of Indy's offense.
But it's the 28-year-old Manning that is the unit's implacable brain.
After signing a $98 million contract extension in the off-season that made him the NFL's highest-paid player, Manning is the prohibitive favorite for the league's most valuable player award. And he is on the verge of breaking one of the game's seemingly unapproachable records: Dan Marino's 48 touchdown passes in one season, set in 1984.
Through 12 games, Manning has 44 touchdown passes, including a streak of five straight games with at least four touchdowns, which ended last Sunday. If he continues on his current pace, Manning will finish with 59 touchdowns, a Beamonesque improvement on the existing standard.
His attack on Marino's mark will continue today against the Texans in Houston, where the 9-3 Colts can clinch the AFC South title. That's the first step in returning to the AFC championship game, where the Colts were last January before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
"It's all pretty much on Peyton," wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "He does so much at the line. He's always putting us in the best position for us to be successful. A lot of teams can't do that because they don't have the quarterback of his magnitude."
But Manning won't wax eloquent about individual achievements.
"I hate to keep killing you with these boring answers, but I just can't get into it," he said at his locker this week. "You still have to just follow the read. And whether it's throwing touchdowns or handing off to Edgerrin James, the idea is to keep trying to score points."
The Colts are good at that. They lead the league in scoring at 35.9 points per game, and have been held under 30 just three times. Their underrated offensive line has allowed just seven sacks this season. (The Bears, by contrast, have allowed 48.) And James' 1,291 rushing yards keep defenses from loading up on the passing game.
But Manning's numbers are out-of-this-world crazy. He is completing 68 percent of his passes, and leads the league in passing yards (3,621), yards per pass (a ridiculous 9.41), and, of course, touchdowns. Not only is he first in touchdowns, he's 14 touchdowns better than the second-place quarterback, Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, who's having a sensational season.
And Manning's quarterback rating this season of 126.3 is on pace to shatter Steve Young's all-time best rating of 112.8, set in 1994 with the 49ers.
Many teams have run no-huddle offenses with success in recent years; Jim Kelly's Bills and Boomer Esiason's Bengals come to mind. But Manning's dominance in offensive coordinator Tom Moore's attack this season stretches credibility.
"You sometimes think 'What would I do?' " against Manning, says Colts head coach Tony Dungy, a guy who had to devise a game plan to defend Brett Favre twice a year when Dungy coached the Buccaneers.
"It's been kind of an unbelievable stretch the last five weeks," Dungy said. "The biggest thing he's done [this year] is really follow the reads and go where the ball should go, knowing that he's got confidence in all five of the skill-position guys that are playing with us."
Manning says the numbers are no accident.
"Guys have a pretty good idea of what play I'm changing it to," he said. "I'm not really surprising anybody with any of the audibles. That continuity just helps. It's just been very rhythmic. Guys have been in the flow of the game. Everybody's been on the same page. We don't have a lot of missed assignments."
To wit: Manning's first touchdown pass last week, to Wayne, was on a play the team hadn't run in weeks.
"Everyone's throwing so many things at you to slow us down," Wayne said. "You've really got to be focused. If not, you get Peyton sacked. And right now, you don't want him to get sacked."
Manning is spreading the ball around this season. Harrison, a Roman Catholic High product and three-time Maxwell Award winner as a high school player, has his customary 67 catches for 870 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Wayne (56 catches, 875 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Stokley (55 catches, 882 yards, nine touchdowns) are having career years. Tight ends Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark have combined for 11 touchdowns.
All of them are beneficiaries of Manning's largesse.
"For a guy to do it the way Peyton is doing it, he has a lot of class and he's everything that's right about the NFL and playing the quarterback position," Marino said in a national conference call with reporters this week.
It starts with Manning's now-legendary off-season work. Manning and Harrison don't have to spend weeks together in the spring working on routes as they did early in their careers. This spring it was Stokley, who worked Manning's football camp in Louisiana after an injury-plagued 2003 season and ran routes with the boss.
And Manning did mental reps with Wayne, who'd been inconsistent his first couple of seasons in Indianapolis.
"We'd go over the route tree over and over," Wayne said. "Our offense is situated on timing. When you come out of your break and you turn your head, you expect the ball will be there."
Now, Manning has confidence no matter where the ball goes.
"We don't spend a lot of time watching film together," Manning said. "We'll visualize. I'll say, 'Hey, here's what Tennessee is going to do; I want you to run this and make this adjustment.' And those three guys, they can see it in their head. Which I think is a real key to being a special player, [being] able to visualize it in your head."
The Colts' Super Bowl hopes, though, likely hinge on a defense that's been suspect for much of the season. But it's getting a little better. And as long as Manning is slinging the ball around as he has this season, how good does it really have to be?
"The thing about us is, the whole offense is in every Sunday, and we kind of hold you accountable for knowing," Manning said. "It's not an excuse to come back and say, 'That wasn't in the game plan.' If we ran it in training camp, it is in the game plan."
Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marino vs. Manning
The game-by-game breakdown of Dan Marino's 48-TD season compared to Peyton Manning's season:
Dan Marino, 1984
Opponent Att Comp. Yds. TD Int.
at Washington 28 21 311 5 0
New England 27 16 234 2 2
at Buffalo 35 26 296 3 1
Indianapolis 29 14 257 2 0
at St.Louis 36 24 429 3 0
at Pittsburgh 24 16 226 2 1
Houston 32 25 321 3 0
at New England 39 24 316 4 1
Buffalo 28 19 282 3 3
at N.Y. Jets 42 23 422 2 2
EAGLES 34 20 246 1 1
at San Diego 41 28 338 2 1
N.Y. Jets 31 19 192 4 0
L.A. Raiders 57 35 470 4 2
at Indianapolis 41 29 404 4 1
Dallas 40 23 340 4 2
Totals 564 362 5,084 48 17
Peyton Manning, 2004
Opponent Att. Comp. Yards TD Int.
at New England 29 16 256 2 1
at Tennessee 33 24 254 2 0
Green Bay 40 28 393 5 0
at Jacksonville 29 20 220 2 1
Oakland 26 16 198 3 1
Jacksonville 39 27 368 3 0
at Kansas City 44 25 472 5 1
Minnesota 29 23 268 4 0
Houston 27 18 320 5 2
at Chicago 28 17 211 4 1
at Detroit 28 23 236 6 0
Tennessee 33 25 425 3 2
Totals 385 262 3,621 44 9