AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- The doubters called Marvin Harrison too old, contended his knees were too frail and his speed was disappearing from those wiry legs. They even wrote off the record-setting receiver as all but finished.
Harrison, as usual, didn't respond with words but with actions.
Slowly, he's turning them into believers again.
"When you watch the films, it don't look like the Marv we've seen in the past," Baltimore safety Ed Reed said. "But when you bite on the play fake, it's like seeing a (lightning) bolt running by you."
Reed understands better than most. Last Sunday, the former defensive player of the year and his teammates on the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense, got duped again by the uncanny Harrison.
They wanted to blitz Peyton Manning, take Reggie Wayne out of the equation and stop the Colts' sputtering ground game. Instead, they got burned by a 36-year-old receiver who re-established his reputation with two touchdown catches in a game for the first time since December 2006.
Yes, injuries, the emergence of Wayne and an uncharacteristically slow-starting Manning had turned Harrison from the star of the Colts' high-flying act into, essentially, a forgotten man over the past year.
Things are changing.
On Sunday, Harrison caught three passes for 83 yards, including a 67-yard TD pass on which he beat three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister by three steps, then outran McAlister to the end zone. Harrison also made a nimble 5-yard TD catch with the ball stuck to his left shoulder in traffic.
It was the perfect answer to an imperfect perception.
"To me, it don't look like he's a lost a step," longtime teammate Dominic Rhodes said Thursday. "If you watch the film, he's the same guy. From 2001 till now, you see the same guy."
For Harrison, who continues to abide by his long-held position of rarely doing interviews, it had to be another glorious moment in a career filled with them.
He's the NFL's single-season record-holder for receptions with 143 in 2002; one of only four players in league history to top 1,000 career catches and 14,000 yards; and he's the Colts' career leader in every major receiving category. He has a Super Bowl ring and eight Pro Bowl appearances, and for a decade, he's been regarded as one of the NFL's elite receivers.
His impeccable image started changing last season, though, after a Denver player rolled into Harrison's left leg while he threw a block for Joseph Addai. From October until the end of the season, Harrison played in just two games and hardly practiced.
Following the Colts' playoff loss to San Diego, a game in which Harrison lost a rare fumble, he had surgery on his right knee and missed most of the team's offseason workouts.
Many wondered whether he could make it all the way back.
Then came a shooting incident in his hometown of Philadelphia. Harrison was questioned by police but never charged or arrested, and the victim filed a lawsuit against the Colts' receiver last week.
Harrison never got distracted.
He continued rehabbing and returned to practice at the start of training camp, ahead of schedule. Coach Tony Dungy, team president Bill Polian and Harrison's teammates insisted Harrison looked like the same deceptive receiver he had always been.
The problem was Manning was recovering from surgery to fix an infected bursa sac, and the overlap meant the most proficient passing tandem in league history went nearly 11 months without any substantial work together.
Clearly, Manning and Harrison were out of sync when the regular season began.
"I think Marv's speed has been there the whole time," Manning said Wednesday. "It was probably going on almost a solid year that he and I hadn't gotten all the work. I really didn't think it affected him as much as it affected me and getting back on the same page with him. I think he's been pretty good and pretty sharp, and I think he still has that speed. I'm telling you, it's pretty rare to see a guy his age run the way he does."
When the Colts started slowly, some blamed it on Harrison's age or injuries that caused him to be less explosive off the line. That, they suggested, allowed opponents to move more defenders to the line of scrimmage.
While even Manning acknowledges defenses have played the Colts differently through the first five weeks, most at the Colts complex believe it was more about a revamped offensive line and Manning's knee than Harrison's productivity.
"We've definitely seen more eight-man fronts and they want to make us throw. You never see that," Rhodes said.
As for Manning and Harrison, Rhodes has another opinion: "I think it's just been a matter of timing. A lot of people want to say it's age, but I think it's just been the timing between them."
Now that Manning and Harrison have been back together since late August, opponents may want to rethink those tactics.
Especially after watching the Baltimore film.
Harrison has 11 catches, 155 yards and three TDs in the past three weeks, still subpar numbers for a receiver who had four straight 100-catch seasons and eight straight seasons with at least 80 catches.
But the recent performances show things are starting to get back to normal for the Colts, and dare opponents -- and critics -- to write off Harrison at their own risk.
"You still have to keep a couple of guys on him," Reed said. "And you have to keep an eye on him all the time."