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Manning finding new ways to beat conventional wisdom

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Peyton Manning is known as a conventional pocket passer. He's quickly adopting an unconventional style.

Manning showed Monday night on the game-winning drive against Minnesota that nothing is off limits. He can beat opponents right-handed, left-handed or even with his feet.

``That's the kind of thing good players, MVP-type players, do,'' Colts coach Tony Dungy said Tuesday. ''(Daunte) Culpepper is the same way, and guys like that can make things happen.''

For Manning, football has always been about preparation and execution. He spends countless hours studying videos, working on the smallest details, preparing for any contingency he might face and playing within the system.

The combination would seemingly make Manning an unlikely candidate to master improvisational skills, but that's what he's done.

On the biggest play in Monday night's 31-28 victory, Manning switched the ball from his dominant right hand to his rarely used left hand and somehow pushed a pass forward to Edgerrin James, who caught it and ran 6 yards for a first down. Minnesota never got another chance.

An improbable play, yes, but it illustrated the kind of season Manning is having.

After eight games, he's thrown for 2,429 yards, 26 touchdowns and has just four interceptions. He's thrown nine TD passes in the last two weeks, produced a single-game career-high 472 yards passing and helped lead the Colts (5-3) back into a first-place tie with Jacksonville in the AFC South.

Manning is on pace to throw for nearly 5,000 yards. He needs just three more TD passes to match the total from his co-MVP season of last year, and his quarterback rating of 121.2 is nearly nine points better than Steve Young's NFL record of 112.8 set in 1994.

Those are the tangible results.

What's become increasingly more complex for opponents is gauging Manning's strategy.

``I thought we'd stop him, but we let him get out scrambling,'' Vikings coach Mike Tice lamented after Manning ran for 15 yards late in Monday night's game.

Manning used to confound defenses with mind games such as the Colts' no-huddle offense or his continual gesturing at the line of scrimmage.

Now he's adding new wrinkles.

With the score tied at 28 and 2:13 to go, Manning faced first-and-10 from the Colts 44. Comfortably in the pocket, Manning had no open receivers so he did his best impersonation of Michael Vick before hook-sliding for the big gain. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Minnesota's Lance Johnstone tacked on 15 more yards.

We caught them in man-to-man and all the receivers were accounted for,'' Manning said.No one accounted for the quarterback and usually they don't play a spy on me.''

Why would they?

In Manning's 103 previous NFL games, he ran for 603 career yards, a measly average of 5.9 a game.

Three plays later, Manning delivered again on third-and-5 from the Vikings 21. This time, he was pressured from the side and opted for what he considered the safe play _ a left-handed flip to James.

That's one of those you kind of practice every now and then,'' he said.You're out there on a Saturday and don't really want to throw so you might do a couple left-handed options. I did a little option in high school, that's about the last time I did anything left-handed.''

Dungy said he didn't realize Manning had made the play left-handed at first. All the Vikings could do was shake their heads in disbelief.

But to the Colts, it was Manning being himself.

As accurate as Peyton is, even getting a little space, he's able to put the ball in there,'' Dungy said.You do get numb to it.''

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