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PRO FOOTBALL WEEK 1

Hit and Miss

Pro football: Manning follows in a tradition in Colts' 24-15 loss. So does Mora.

September 07, 1998|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIANAPOLIS — Before Sunday, the last rookie quarterback to start and finish the opening game as a winner in the NFL was New Orleans' Archie Manning, scoring on the final play 27 years ago to upset the Los Angeles Rams.

Archie's boy, Peyton, also scored on the final play Sunday in his debut, but it was only a consolation prize, his Indianapolis Colts losing, 24-15, to Miami before 60,587 in the RCA Dome.

And that record for being the last rookie quarterback to start and finish the opening game as a winner now belongs to San Diego's Ryan Leaf.

"Hey, I've been there," said Archie, looking close to tears as the TV cameras found him sitting in the stands shortly after one of his son's three interceptions was returned for a Miami touchdown. "It's hard as a parent to sit there, and I'm spoiled, too, as a parent.

"He played four years of high school and four years of college, and I'll bet he lost no more than a total of 10 to 12 games. I've always had sympathy for the daddies of the quarterbacks on the other side while I was sitting there smiling."

The smiles might be a long time in coming. For young Manning, a chip off the old block so far, it's one down and 130 more defeats to go to top his father for most losses by a quarterback in NFL history.

He's playing for the right franchise to make it. The right coach too.

Jim Mora, criticized and eventually berated in New Orleans for his conservative coaching approach, introduced himself before the first opening game sellout crowd here since 1989 with the kind of decisions that keep people home. A year ago, under coach Lindy Infante, the Colts beat Miami here, 41-0. This was not progress.

Losing, 17-6, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter with fourth and two at the Dolphin 10, Mora settled for a 27-yard field goal. The fans booed loudly.

Still losing, 17-9, with less than four minutes to play, fourth and two at the Dolphins' three-yard line, and Mora took the 20-yard field goal.

Archie Manning's Saints, while crummy, at least tried to win.

But Mora's Colts, who were 3-13 a year ago and fighting to reclaim lost excitement here, fell flat on an audience, much of whom left before Manning threw his first NFL touchdown pass, a six-yard flick to Marvin Harrison as time expired.

"I felt like what we did was the right thing," Mora said. "I feel you have to get points."

Mora said he never had any doubts about calling for the first field goal, but intended to go for the touchdown on the second opportunity before Manning suggested a field goal might be better.

Manning's barely old enough to vote and one game into his NFL career he's making the decisions?

"You take the points any time you have the opportunity," Manning said.

After moving to within eight points of the Dolphins, the Colts forced them to punt and took possession at their own four-yard line with 1:32 to play. It'd be a tough task for a veteran like Miami quarterback Dan Marino, who had already thrown the 386th touchdown pass of his career to move the length of the field, score and then go for the two-point tying conversion.

But for the rookie Manning, it was asking the impossible. Throwing on second down from his own end zone, he tried to go to Harrison, but Miami cornerback Terrell Buckley, who already had one interception, picked off the pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.

"There's going to be a lot of attention on his three interceptions," said Archie, who never played for a team with a winning record in his 14-year career. "But this is a tough kid, really a tough kid."

Archie Manning, who was part of only 27 victories his first seven seasons in New Orleans, stood outside the Colt locker room after the game "because I wanted my son to know I was here for him."

And while the final score left him drained and disappointed, his son's first NFL touchdown, he said, "was my prayer being answered right there."

Manning, who didn't get much help from a running game that featured Marshall Faulk going nowhere with 24 carries for 56 yards, displayed poise and touch at times. His best pass of the day a 42-yard toss to Harrison while being hit in the face by Miami's Daryl Gardner. He was 21 of 37 for 302 yards with three interceptions.

"I was extremely pleased with Peyton's performance," Mora said. "He even played better than I thought he would."

Manning, who lost only six games in four years at Tennessee, said, "I don't care what league you're in, I hate to lose. I hate to start out the season 0-1."

Get used to it.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Fresh Starts

Comparing the first starts of some quarterbacks who made the rare jump from college directly into a starting role:

Peyton Manning: 21-37, 302 yards, 1 TD, 3 int.; Colts lose to Dolphins, 24-15.

Ryan Leaf: 16-31, 192 yards, 1 TD, 2 int.; Chargers defeat Bills, 16-14

John Elway* (1983): 1-8, 14 yards, 0 TD, 1 int.; Broncos defeat Steelers, 14-10.

Troy Aikman (1989): 17-35, 180 yards, 0 TD, 2 int.; Cowboys lose to Saints, 28-0.

*--Elway was replaced by Steve DeBerg in the second half.

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