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Manning looking for successful trip home
against N.O. Saints

By By Richard Dark / EMG sports writer
Sept. 28, 2003
NEW ORLEANS Tonight will be a homecoming for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his wide receiver Reggie Wayne, both New Orleans natives.
But if, for once, it turns into a joyous one for these two and their 3-0 Colts when the ESPN cameras go on at 7:30, then the Saints (1-2) themselves will officially be a team on the verge of no return, stuck in a free fall as they head into a staunch divisional slate over five of the next six outings.
Many players will tell you there's no such thing as the aforementioned point of no return this early (one fourth of the way) into a 16-game season. And there are also numbers to support the players' claim as well. One set of numbers will tell you the Colts and Manning haven't fared well in the recent past inside the Louisiana Superdome.
"We're off to a good start, but that's all it is, a start," Manning said. "There's still a lot of football to be played and the Superdome is a tough place to play. There's a lot of memories there and in New Orleans and with the people and the way they've treated me and my family. When you're coming down to play an NFL regular season game, it's hard to get caught up in anything else besides the Saints defense."
The Saints have taken the last five decisions from this team. But that could also bear out that the son of the greatest quarterback in Saints history is due for a win in his old stomping grounds.
One thing is certain, if both teams continue to play the way they have up until this point in the season, Manning and Wayne and the rest of Tony Dungy's Colts will leave happy.
One unit that will have to put forth a huge effort into making sure that does not happen is the offensive line. Last week, against the Tennessee Titans, they were embarrassed, holding the ball for only a third of the game and making their defense stay on the field the rest of the time.
Former Ole Miss star Deuce McAllister proved to be a prophet of sorts heading into the Tennessee contest when he talked of the yards being difficult to gain when opposing defenses stack eight men in the box. The Titans held him to just eight yards on 11 carries.
After being named NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 by Sports Illustrated, offensive guard LeCharles Bentley hasn't exactly had the greatest of starts to this season. He'll have to play better if McAllister is to get untracked, as well as Mike McCarthy's offense.
"It was a tough game all around," Bentley said. "Not just for me, but as a unit as a whole. It looked like they whipped our (behinds), if you want to be blunt about it."
Perhaps it is that type of attitude of taking responsibility for one's actions that will go a long way toward correcting the problems.
One byproduct of losing is having to wear a tag of underachievers. Symptoms include heads hanging when plays go the other way and a general feeling of malaise.
Wide receiver Joe Horn even admitted too being out of the game mentally last week when he wasn't catching passes. All told, he was held to just one catch for a harmless five yards. He'll have to have a big game tonight if this team is to stay in the inevitable shooting match that will come against Indianapolis.
He declined to speak to the media this week, except to comment for teammates' feature stories.
The grumbling is there, but the head man is circling the wagons.
Saints owner Tom Benson stepped out of the shadows this week and gave the team a vote of confidence, speaking publicly for the first time.
"Like a lot of the fans, we're disappointed," Benson said Thursday, while addressing the team narrowly capturing its 24th consecutive sellout. "We'd like to be 3-0 instead of 1-2, but I think we've got a good team. I think if we correct some of these problems that happened to us in a couple of losing games, then I have every confidence that this club is going to keep going forward from now on. This is going to be an outstanding year for us. We've got a lot of football ahead of us."
We started off with some bad injuries. We had five starters knocked out. That's hard to overcome."
Earlier in the week, his coach started mending the psychological fence.
"I believe in our football team," said coach Jim Haslett. "We have a good team. We just have to get back to doing the things we know we can do well. We have to keep our heads up and not get down when things don't go well for us. The players also have to believe in themselves. The good teams rally and come back when things go wrong."
They can't afford to have too much go wrong. One week prior to losing to the Titans by 16, the offensive juggernaut that is Manning, Edgerrin James and Co. whipped Tennessee 33-7. James has not practiced all week due to a sore back and is considered a game-time decision. The Colts have six other player listed on their injury report with a status lower than probable.
Amazingly enough, the Saints, who have already lost five starters on defense, have no new injuries this week, meaning that the entire squad that played against the Titans will be in action tonight.

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