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Ravens plan is to try to keep Manning on sideline

BALTIMORE — Just like every other team that faces the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens’ top priority is containing Peyton Manning.
    To reach that goal, the Ravens will depend as much on their offense as their top-ranked defense in Saturday’s second-round AFC playoff game.
    ‘‘Any time you play the Colts and Peyton Manning, the old adage is true: It’s hard to score when you’re not on the field,’’ Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
    The Ravens (13-3) are well equipped to play keep-away from the NFL’s top-ranked quarterback. With Jamal Lewis getting around 20-25 carries a game and Steve McNair employing a precision passing game designed to move the first-down chains 10 yards at a time, Baltimore led the NFL this season in time of possession.
    That brand of offense should come in handy Saturday against Indianapolis (13-4).
    ‘‘Controlling the clock lets our defense rest and lets them get after people when they do get on the field,’’ Baltimore center Mike Flynn said. ‘‘The few games we lost this year, we didn’t control the ball and the time of possession. If we make first downs, we’re tough to beat.’’
    The Colts allowed only one touchdown and survived three Manning interceptions last week in a 23-8 win over Kansas City. More often than not, however, Indianapolis relies on its prolific quarterback to win.
    This game should be no exception.
    ‘‘The same basic principles are in place: We want to protect the ball, convert third downs and when we’re in the red zone, we want to score touchdowns,’’ Manning said. ‘‘But Baltimore makes that a real challenge.’’
    Such was not the case in the opener last season, when the Colts took a 17-0 lead in the third quarter and coasted to a 24-7 win in Baltimore.
    ‘‘We didn’t control them early, let them get the lead and ended up getting into a throwing game,’’ Flynn recalled.
    This isn’t the same Baltimore team. In that 2005 game, Kyle Boller started at quarterback and left with an injury before being replaced by Anthony Wright — neither of whom proved to be effective as the Ravens staggered to a 6-10 finish.
    Now Baltimore has McNair, who for the sake of variety might take a few shots at throwing long Saturday. But the game plan calls for plenty of handoffs to Lewis and high-percentage short tosses to Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.
    Fresh after taking a week off during the first-round bye, Lewis is eager to run the football — and run down the clock.
    ‘‘You want to keep Peyton off the field, because if you leave him on the field long enough he’s going to make some plays,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘We have a great defense. I’m sure they have a great plan for them. But, from an offensive standpoint, I think we’re going to be the best defense.’’
    The Indianapolis offense is known for its quick strikes — Manning to Marvin Harrison, Manning to Reggie Wayne, and so on. Manning threw an NFL-high 31 touchdown passes this season and the Colts owned the top-ranked offense.
    But the Ravens, thanks to McNair, showed they no longer have to rely on their defense to win.
    ‘‘They just feel like they’ve got a whole package now,’’ Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. ‘‘They’ve got a guy who’s going to take care of the football. He’s not going to get rattled, he’s not going to have an off day in a big game, and if they are down four points with 3 minutes to go, that he’s going to find a way to win the game. So, you can see the confidence that they are playing with.’’
    McNair finished as the eighth-ranked passer in the AFC. That, however, has no bearing on his value to the Ravens.
    ‘‘He doesn’t get enough credit. I’m biased, I’m sensitive about it,’’ Billick said. ‘‘You hear about a lot of other guys, but this is a former MVP that’s been to the Super Bowl. He’s pretty good.’’

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