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Manning leads historic assault on NFL records

There are traces of Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Steve Young in Peyton Manning, not to mention the DNA of dear old dad, Archie.

They're all there in his arm, his accuracy, his eyes, his brains.

He commands the field as they did, scanning targets, clicking them off side to side, throwing short or long. The way he passes, the way he's protected by his line, and the way Edgerrin James runs, this Manning need not often risk his limbs or skull scampering around.

Peyton Manning is in the lineage of those quarterback icons and he's snatching pieces of their records one by one, sometimes in one fell swoop.

On Sunday, when Indianapolis is at Houston, Manning needs five touchdown passes to break Marino's NFL single-season record of 48 in 1984. Playing in the Colts' 13th game with three to go, Manning is on pace for 58 TD passes this year. When the Colts hosted the Texans last month, Manning threw for five TDs.

If that is football's equivalent of the home run record, Manning could shatter Marino's mark by a greater percentage than Barry Bonds' 73 home runs or Mark McGwire's 70 eclipsed Roger Maris' 61.

At the same time, Manning is on course to take down Young's quarterback rating record, 112.4, with an astounding 126.3 mark so far.

Numbers like that, plus film of him picking apart secondaries, drive defenses crazy. They look for flaws and see few.

He's as close to a football god as there is right now,'' Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said recently.The way they're playing on offense, it's like Madden 2005.''

It's as new as the latest video game and as old as the vintage teams quarterbacked by the players Manning is surpassing. They commanded offensive juggernauts in their time, playing catch with their favorite receivers.

Manning is at another level. His line keeps him out of sack trouble. James, the NFL's second-leading rusher with 1,291 yards and eight TDs, keeps defenses honest. The air force is deep: Marvin Harrison (67 catches for 870 yards and 12 TDs); Reggie Wayne (56-875, 10 TDs); Brandon Stokley (55-882, nine TDs); Marcus Pollard (23-233, six TDs); and Dallas Clark (18-357, five TDs).

Manning's toughest job is to divide the yards and TDs evenly, keep everyone alert and happy.

His three-TD, 425-yard effort this past Sunday in a victory over Tennessee didn't tire out Manning enough to keep him from trying to keep some other people happy on Monday. Without a lot of fanfare, he hosted 1,100 disadvantaged kids for a holidays celebration at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, giving them hugs, shaking their hands and signing autographs.

This is the year of the surpassing passer in the NFL. Manning is the best by far, but others are enjoying some of the finest seasons in history.

Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, having the best season of his six-year career, erased Montana's record for consecutive completions. He hit on his first 14 passes in the Eagles' 47-17 victory over Green Bay on Sunday, a week after completing his last 10 passes in a victory over Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Against the Packers, McNabb passed for a career-high five touchdowns and a club-record 464 yards to bring his quarterback rating to 110.4, second-best in the league.

Pittsburgh rookie Ben Roethlisberger is flirting with perfection of a different sort, leading the Steelers on a 10-game winning streak.

Roethlisberger didn't get the respect and the money Eli Manning did in the NFL draft last spring, but he has a virtual lock on Rookie of the Year. He is fourth among the six quarterbacks with ratings over 100, and he is the only rookie among them.

In Joe Montana fashion on Sunday night in Jacksonville, Roethlisberger added more luster to his season by engineering a drive that set up a winning field goal with 18 seconds to play.

Is a rookie quarterback supposed to win a game like that on the road in a hostile environment in prime time?'' Steelers guard Alan Faneca asked before answering his own question.Probably not. That says a lot about him. He's special.''

This is a special era for quarterbacks, as golden a group as any in the past. Brett Favre continues to amaze, though he struggled Sunday against Philadelphia when his streak of games with a TD pass was snapped at 36, second in NFL history to Unitas' 47 straight.

Eli Manning, the No. 1 draft pick, has gotten a rude 0-3 introduction since he was thrown into the starting lineup.

If pedigree pays off, and if the Giants figure out how to build an offense like the one in Indianapolis, the younger Manning may very well one day be doing what his big brother is doing now.

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