INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton’s Place is starting to look a lot more like a one-man act.
The Browns don’t seem to mind.
With one Peyton (Manning) out, another Peyton (Hillis) overpowered the Colts’ defense for two touchdown runs Sunday, leading the Browns to a 27-19 victory over reeling Indianapolis.
For the Colts, it doesn’t get much worse than this. They already lost Manning for at least two months because of neck surgery and are now 0-2 for the first time since 1998, Manning’s rookie season. The four-time MVP quarterback’s absence seems to have stripped the Colts of any aura of superiority — Sunday’s loss to Cleveland was Indy’s first in the series since 1994, Manning’s freshman season at Tennessee.
Without their franchise quarterback, the Colts didn’t have much of a chance — even at home against a below-average team.
"We did some things better, but that’s not what we’re measured by around here," Indy coach Jim Caldwell said. "We’re measured by winning."
By that standard, the start of this season has been an abject failure. Indy could have been expected to struggle without Manning. This is more like a collapse.
Few expected things to look this bleak this fast.
From the middle of the third quarter until Indy’s final desperation drive, the Colts didn’t pick up a first down. That stretch included four straight three-and-outs, one that ended with a third-down interception after Pro Bowl receiver Wayne fell down.
Kerry Collins, Manning’s replacement, started the game 9 of 12 but completed only 10 of his last 26, most coming after the outcome was decided. He finished 19 of 38 with 191 yards, one interception and another lost fumble. He didn’t get the Colts into the end zone until 24 seconds remained.
"The facts are what they are," Collins said. "We didn’t do what we needed to do."
Cleveland (1-1) did, and the victory ended a tough week for Cleveland.
It simplified the game plan by relying on Hillis, a former Conway High standout, who carried 27 times for 94 yards and the game-sealing score with 3:55 left. He wore down the Colts with his strong runs and repeatedly converted in short-yardage situations to help the Browns play keepaway.
"That’s Peyton," Browns quarterback Colt McCoy said after throwing for 211 yards and one TD. "He’s going to run and run and run. Eventually, he’s going to run over someone and go."
Last week against Cincinnati, the Browns’ defense got caught napping on a long touchdown pass, and punt returner Josh Cribbs got knocked down when a teammate leveled a Bengals defender. Then Saturday, as the Browns got ready to depart Cleveland, the team plane got stuck in the mud.
Some thought it might be a harbinger. Hillis made sure it wasn’t against the Manningless Colts.
"Maybe we should get stuck in the mud every week," Cribbs said, drawing the kind of laughter usually heard in Indy’s locker room.
The Browns changed the dynamic by trading touchdowns for field goals. Without Manning, Indy couldn’t keep pace.
Collins led the Colts on two long drives in their first three series before settling for field goals.
Cleveland answered midway throughout the second quarter when McCoy scrambled to his left on third-and-11 from the Colts 16 and hooked up with Evan Moore in the back corner of the end zone to make it 7-6.
Indy came right back with a 52-yard field goal, Adam Vinatieri’s longest kick since 2008. But McCoy has enough time to take the Browns down to the Colts 1. Hillis’ plunge with 15 seconds left made it 14-9.
The Colts closed to 14-12 midway through the third quarter, but Phil Dawson kicked two short field goals and Hillis’ decisive 24-yard TD run sealed it.
"I don’t know if we adjusted. We probably would have seen some different things," with Manning on the field, coach Pat Shurmur said after his first career win. "Don’t underestimate this (Colts) team. For us to get our first victory against them is good."