Reality was better than a dream for Peyton Manning yesterday, as breaking one of pro football's most magnificent records coincided with a magnificent game. He wanted his 49th touchdown...

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INDIANAPOLIS — Reality was better than a dream for Peyton Manning yesterday, as breaking one of pro football’s most magnificent records coincided with a magnificent game.

He wanted his 49th touchdown pass to happen in the normal flow of business to help his Indianapolis Colts win. He wanted nothing to tarnish the mark of 48 set in 1984 by one of his idols, Dan Marino. The Colts had been accused of running up scores this year and were booed at home last week for taking a knee.

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“That was more than the flow,” an elated Manning said after his 21-yard strike to Brandon Stokley with 56 seconds left enabled the Colts to take the San Diego Chargers into overtime, where Indianapolis won 34-31 on Mike Vanderjagt’s 30-yard field goal.

The comeback and the play were the stuff of legends, and Manning knew it.

“I think Johnny Unitas would have been proud of that drive,” Manning said after taking his team 80 yards in nine plays.

Sandlot quarterbacks everywhere would have been proud of the play because the Colts had never run it in a game.

“Don’t ask me why he called it,” Stokley said. “We ran it in one-on-one drills in practice four or five times. It says something about Peyton that, with everything on the line, he calls a play we’ve never run before.”

Manning had been outplayed all day by San Diego’s Drew Brees, who threw three touchdown passes. The Colts had looked oddly flat in a matchup between two division winners with at least the third AFC seed at stake.

“We might have been pressing a little bit trying to get those scoring passes,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “Everybody. Not just Peyton.”

So even with Manning shouting plays from the line of scrimmage as usual, trailing by eight in the last minute, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson said he felt comfortable on the sideline.

“I had the feeling they weren’t going to score,” Tomlinson said.

Manning’s earlier touchdown pass, the one that tied Marino, came on one of those “shovel passes” that Manning later joked still count. Manning had been sacked four times after being sacked just nine times all year. The Chargers had forced Manning to settle for three field goals while leading throughout.

So the play had “no real name,” Stokley said.

“You think the NFL is real complex,” Manning said. “I was whispering to him, ‘Hey, run a post.’ It turns into street ball real quick.”

From the slot where Stokley lined up, the receiver usually runs a corner route.

“He gave me a dummy audible,” Stokley said.

Said Manning: “I gave the same signal I had before. They were all thinking he was going to run a corner.”

Safety Jerry Wilson left Stokley to cover the flat. Safety Terrence Kiel then picked up Stokley, who faked to the corner and left Kiel stumbling. Before Stokley turned inside, Manning threw.

“I was afraid I threw too early,” Manning said, “but it hit him right in stride. Pretty special play. One I’ll always remember.”

There was no time to celebrate.

“If we don’t get the two-point conversion, it’s kind of a downer,” Manning said.

Running back Edgerrin James took care of that detail on the Colts’ first two-point attempt of the season.

Overtime seemed like a formality. After the Chargers lost the toss, Manning hit Stokley for 23 yards and Wayne for 35 to set up Vanderjagt.

Brees, meanwhile, became no more than a footnote after the former Purdue star defied the noisy RCA Dome.

The win was the Colts’ eighth in a row, same as the Chargers had won coming in.

Said Brees, “I assume we’ll meet them here in the near future.”