Indianapolis 29, Denver 10

Jan. 6, 2002 at 7:05 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Peyton Manning threw a pair of touchdown passes to Marvin Harrison Sunday and Dominic Rhodes became the third rookie in team history to rush for 1,000 yards as the Indianapolis Colts rolled to a 29-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.

In a battle of disappointing teams, Indianapolis Coach Jim Mora had to answer questions about his future with the team while two-time Super Bowl champion oach Mike Shanahan addressed speculation concerning his taking over the Florida Gators.

The Colts' much-maligned defense victimized Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, who threw a career-high four interceptions and was sacked five times.

"I was real proud of the way our defense played, coming up with the four interceptions," Mora said.

"I'm probably saying the same thing as everyone else, 'Why not more often?,'" said Colts strong safety Chad Cota, who recorded eight tackles. "It's a good Denver offense and we just made some big plays early on."

In his fourth season on the Indianapolis sidelines, the 66-year-old Mora could be fired this week. He has posted a 32-32 record during his tenure, and the Colts (6-10) had their worst season since going 3-13 in 1998 -- Mora's first as Colts coach.

Following the game, Shanahan discussed stories surrounding his possible departure for the coaching job at the University of

Florida, which was vacated Friday by Steve Spurrier.

"I haven't talked to anybody from the University of Florida," Shanahan said. "I know (Gators athletic director) Jeremy Foley quite well. He's a close friend of mine. We've always teased each other, if the job ever opened, he would talk to me.

"I would always talk to him about it. But as I've said all along, I am very happy here. I have a contract, I intend on keeping that contract."

Manning, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 191 yards, became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in three straight seasons. He found Harrison with an 11-yard pass on third and three with 6:14 remaining in the first half to join San Diego's Dan Fouts and Miami's Dan Marino as the only players to accomplish the feat.

"We're pleased with the win, but it doesn't make up for the entire season," Manning said. "I don't have a comment for that situation (Mora's job). Coach Mora did a great job keeping us focused on this game and finishing the season."

Manning also recorded his 23rd interception of the season.

Harrison, Indianapolis' lone Pro Bowl selection, made nine catches for 128 yards. Rhodes had 31 carries for 141 yards as he joined Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James as the only Colts rookies to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

"I wish I could play for him my whole career," Harrison said of his embattled coach. "He's a coach that's a player's coach and I respect him. If I make a mistake, he's going to get on me like he would anyone else."

Rhodes had 31 carries for 141 yards as he joined Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James as the only Colts rookies to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

The 5-9, 208-pounder out of Midwestern State also became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Defensive end Chad Bratzke recorded three sacks for Indianapolis, which entered Sunday having yielded an NFL-worst 486 points.

"It's been a tough year for me injury-wise. But today was the best I've felt all season long," Bratzke said.

The Colts endured a multitude of problems on defense this season, surrendering an average of 483 total yards and 27 first downs entering Sunday and ranking 30th in the league in defense.

Against Denver, Indianapolis allowed 219 total net yards and 17 first downs.

"I'm a player, I'm not a coach," Bratzke said when asked about Mora's future. "I'm not management, I'm not an owner, but I am a Mora fan. I love his discipline and respect his attention to detail and respect him as my coach."

Pro Bowl receiver Rod Smith collected 92 yards on seven catches for the Broncos (8-8), who closed the campaign losing two of their last three games.

Denver also lost to Indianapolis for just the second time in its last nine meetings.

The Colts failed to take full advantage of Griese's dismal first quarter. The fifth-year veteran threw two interceptions on his first three passes of the game. He also fumbled on Denver's third possession, forcing his team to punt.

But Indianapolis called upon Mike Vanderjagt to kick three of his team record-tying five field goals in the first quarter to give the Colts a 9-0 lead.

The Broncos' offense finally settled down as running backs Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson contributed on a 13-play, 71-yard drive. Griese finished it off with a one-yard strike to tight end Desmond Clark, cutting Denver's deficit to 9-7.

Griese threw for 151 yards, completing 16 of 32 passes in perhaps his finally game under Shanahan.

"That's his decision not mine," Griese said. "Whatever happens, happens. If Mike leaves, he leaves. If he stays, that's great. Either way, I'll be ready to play next year."

Indianapolis scored 13 straight points, bridging the second and third quarters, to take a 22-7 lead and effectively put away Denver.

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