CB's forced fumble halts Packers' attack
Colts CB Jason David, one of the smallest players on the field, made perhaps the biggest play against Green Bay.
INDIANAPOLIS -- For most of the first 54 minutes of Sunday's game, Indianapolis Colts cornerback Jason David was definitely a marked man, a rookie fourth-round draft choice who could almost feel the icy gaze of Brett Favre on every snap.
A tiny whisp of a nickel cornerback who had a figurative bull's eye stenciled onto his chest by the Green Bay quarterback, David had been transformed into Favre's favorite whipping boy, surrendering one touchdown pass when he flat-out busted a coverage and then allowing another long completion on an obvious mental gaffe.
His strip of Green Bay wide receiver Javon Walker after a six-yard completion, with the fumble recovered by fellow cornerback Nick Harper, was arguably the signature play of a scintillating contest dominated by two high-octane offenses and very little defense from either of the teams. In tennis terms, it was the service break Indianapolis sorely needed at the time, the lone takeaway in a 45-31 Colts victory in which the passing attacks traversed up and down the field as if they were involved in a training camp seven-on-seven drill.
"Nobody ever wants a shootout, at least on defense, but we had a (suspicion) coming in that this game would be just what it turned out to be," said David, who is listed at 5-feet-8 and 168 pounds, but looks even frailer than that. "And when you're a rookie, you for sure come in knowing they're going to make you the marked man, especially a quarterback as smart as Favre. But when you get into a shootout like this, you know someone is going to fire a blank sooner or later, and that's what happened."
David's big play allowed the Colts to move to 2-1, following their opening-game defeat at New England, going into next Sunday's showdown divisional game against the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars. Green Bay, which appeared so dominant winning at Carolina in the first Monday night game of the season, has lost two straight games.
"You look at the numbers and how hard we've played to this point," acknowledged Green Bay free safety Darren Sharper, shaking his head in equal parts frustration and puzzlement, "and you wonder, 'How did it happen?' Really, you do."
Indeed, only in the ever-bizarre world of the NFL, at least during the first three weeks of wackiness and weirdness, could a player benefit from actually allowing a completion. Or could one miscue become so significant in a game where the quarterbacks combined for an amazing 62 completions, 785 yards, nine touchdown passes, zero interceptions, and 37 first downs via the air.
It wasn't quite a High Noon duel in the sun but, had the league positioned Favre and Colts counterpart Peyton Manning in the middle of Capitol Avenue, had the stellar passers step off 50 paces and then commence to rifling the football all over the compact downtown area here, it might not have been any more entertaining than what transpired in the raucous RCA Dome.
Manning opened the game with 22 straight pass-play calls, threw for 247 yards in the first quarter alone, and registered five touchdown passes by halftime. Favre nearly matched him play for play, it seemed, throwing for a pair of touchdown passes in the opening two quarters, including 36- and 79-yard scoring tosses to Walker. By halftime, Manning and Favre had combined for 525 yards and an aggregate passer efficiency rating of over 150.
Incredibly, tailback Edgerrin James, who rehabilitated diligently last week to recover from a hamstring injury, didn't notch his first carry for the Colts until the first play of the second quarter. During the week, the Colts determined that Green Bay, which blitzed 57 times in the opener at Carolina, would try to pressure the pocket in an effort to protect its injury-ravaged secondary.
Then in Saturday night's team meeting, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy and offensive coordinator Tom Moore finalized this three-pronged game plan: Throw, throw, throw.
"A lot of coaches say they're going to do it but Tony didn't back off," said Manning. "He kind of left it to me and, hey, as much as I like a balanced offense, I didn't hesitate. We were throwing it well. We were getting open. It's kind of hard, when things are going that way, to turn around and hand it to a running back."
For the game, in fact, the clubs combined for just 43 running plays on 134 snaps. James and Green Bay star tailback Ahman Green had 134 yards between them. But there were three wide receivers -- Walker for the Packers (11 catches for 198 yards and three scores), and Reggie Wayne (11 catches, 184 yards, one touchdown) and Brandon Stokley (eight receptions, 110 yards, two touchdowns) -- who went over the 100-yard mark.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a battle of attrition in the respective secondaries. The Packers on Saturday announced corner Mike McKenzie, tentatively scheduled for his first start of the season after his lengthy holdout, would not play because of a hamstring injury and that first-round pick Ahmad Carroll had been left in Green Bay with a strained groin.
When left cornerback Michael Hawthorne, starting in place of McKenzie for the third straight week, went out with a leg injury in the first quarter, things went from bad to worse in a hurry. Green Bay was forced to use first-year player Jason Horton, a former undrafted free agent, and Manning mercilessly went right after him.
Indianapolis also played without three injured defensive backs, including starters Mike Doss at strong safety and Joseph Jefferson at cornerback. They lost starting free safety Idrees Bashir to a groin injury during the game. The upshot of the incredible infirmary report, at least in part, was that David logged considerable playing time.
And, as Harper pointed out, it was the tiny David who authored a Goliath-like play. In last week's Colts victory at Tennessee, the munchkin-sized David had authored a key play as well, breaking up a Steve McNair third-down pass in the fourth quarter when the Titans quarterback had clearly come right after him. But what the former Washington State standout lacks in physical stature, he clearly compensates for in heart, and also in selective amnesia, one of the most essential traits for playing cornerback at this level.
There is no doubt that David, forced into the Colts "sub" coverage packages because of injuries, has been beaten pretty regularly in the first three games of the season. But he also has demonstrated an ability to put the poor plays behind him, to not dwell on negatives, to make game-altering plays at crunch time.
|“||Nobody ever wants a shootout, at least on defense, but we had a (suspicion) coming in that this game would be just what it turned out to be. But when you get into a shootout like this, you know someone is going to fire a blank sooner or later, and that's what happened.”|
|—Colts rookie CB Jason David|
Chosen primarily to play on special teams, and to serve an apprenticeship at cornerback, David does have some natural corner skills. A three-year starter in college, David posted 13 interceptions at Washington State, returning three for touchdowns, and also had four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
So he certainly knows about takeaways and is learning quickly that, when he is on the field, opposition quarterbacks are going to single him out and look for advantageous matchups against him.
"Hey, he's a rookie and he's a cornerback, so there is no place for him to hide out there," said Harper, whose fumble recovery came on the heels of a game-turning interception in the end zone last week. "He knows the deal. If you let them know you're scared, they are going to come after you even harder, right? That little guy over there, yeah, he has given up some plays, OK? But he doesn't play scared, man, not at all."
Truth be told, the pace of the game, especially in the first half, had to be frightening for the defensive coordinators and secondary coaches for both franchises. The teams scored on a combined seven of eight possessions and there were just three first-half punts and only eight for the entire contest. Only in the second half, when the Indianapolis offense didn't take its foot off the throttle but started missing on third downs, did the Packers get back into the contest.
"I really thought," said tight end Bubba Franks, "that we had them. I figured we would tie it up and then win it late."
That they didn't, in the end, was attributable to the biggest play of the game, made by the smallest defender on the field.
Asked to recall the biggest play of his football career, David thought a little bit, and then cited an interception in last season's victory over Oregon State. And then, pausing again, he motioned for a reporter to return to his locker, so that he could amend his response.
"I meant," he said, "that was the biggest until this one today."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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