01/07/05 — Graduate Glance -- Thornton, Colts ready for Broncos

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Graduate Glance -- Thornton, Colts ready for Broncos

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on January 7, 2005 1:56 PM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Five meetings in three seasons.

One would expect two teams with so much familiarity to be in the same division. Not so, when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

Last week, the Broncos -- with a playoff berth on the line -- defeated the Colts (12-4), with the third seed in the AFC playoffs already sealed, 33-14 in the Mile High City. Last season at home, the Colts throttled the Broncos 42-10 in a Wild Card game.

This Sunday, Indy and Denver square off again in a first-round battle. Game time is 1 p.m.

"We are excited about playing them again," Indianapolis linebacker David Thornton said. "We played them four times in the past two years. We are familiar with them and they are familiar with us. The bottom line is, who executes the best on Sunday will come away with the win."

Thornton, a Goldsboro High and North Carolina graduate, was one of the many Indianapolis starters that got plenty of rest in last Sunday's game. Thornton, who finished the regular season second on the team in total tackles with 98 (59 solo, 39 assists), played just 21/2 quarters.

"Last week gave us an opportunity to rest some players. Now, rest or no rest, if you are injured you suck it up and keep going," Thornton said. "My body has been holding up well, but you are always going to have some nicks."

Expect a much different look to the blue and white in the RCA Dome on Sunday. Thornton will be a part of a full arsenal for Indianapolis -- a team that outscored its opposition by an average of nearly 11 points this season.

Colt quarterback Peyton Manning -- the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year -- and the Indy offense have again been dazzling this season. Manning set the record for touchdown passes in a season with 49, while three of his receivers -- Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne have all turned in 1,000-yard years. Meanwhile, Edgerrin James is the league's fourth-leading rusher with over 1,500 yards.

Thornton feels privileged to be on the same team as Manning and the rest of the offense, especially during such a historical season. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker shares team captain duties with the record-breaking quarterback.

"It was huge. It's an honor to be on this team and to be on it with him (Manning)," Thornton said. "He's such a student of the game, and he's very deserving of the awards. He goes out and plays well and deserves the credit he gets.

"I'm a fan of the game, and to be a part of history is great."

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis defense has been inconsistent, but has shown flashes of being a stout unit. During the bulk of an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season, the Colt defense held five-of-six opponents to 14 points or less.

"We were inconsistent early on, but we have developed a sense of urgency and confidence," Thornton said. "At one point we were on a tear ... forcing fumbles and holding teams under 14 and 10 points. It's all about doing what we do well. Not trying to be Superman and over do it."

Sure, the number "49" will forever be linked to the 2004 season. But, Thornton knows winning in the NFL playoffs has a lot more to do with passion and finding a way to win than numbers and stats.

"I think we have the heart of a champion. We have dealt with adversity and these type of situations in previous years," Thornton said. "We been in big games before, and we are excited about going further than we did last year."