Brackett, Colts' defense seek attitude adjustment

Updated: September 12, 2005, 3:44 PM ET
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine

BALTIMORE -- A weird Week 1 was coming to a close, with the Ravens calling timeouts as the Colts were trying to kneel the ball. Not "Chris Redman is our quarterback of the future" strange, but strange nonetheless.

Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesGary Brackett led the Colts with 10 tackles Sunday night.

And Colts linebacker Gary Brackett was not happy.

No matter that he got two picks -- four for the year, if you count his preseason stats.

No matter that under his leadership, the Colts were shutting out the Ravens.

No matter that for the first time he can remember, fans were chanting his name. Well, his last name -- "Bra-ckett!" -- probably because that's all they knew.

Fans yelled his name; he gave a halfhearted wave and then cussed out loud as the Ravens' starters drove down the field on the Colts' backups and scored with 13 seconds left, averting a shutout in a 24-7 loss.

Brackett was ticked. So were some of his fellow Colts defenders.

Maybe that's what will make this Colts defense better this year. Defenders in Indy are getting ticked. And that's a good thing. The Colts know that being a bend-but-not-break squad gets you the chance to lose in Foxboro. Getting ticked off might get you more playoff games in Indy.

The Colts ended last year in New England looking vulnerable to a power back. The Colts started Sunday night's game in Baltimore looking vulnerable against a power back. Jamal Lewis, fresh off an offseason prison term, ran the ball often early and got 25 yards on a second-and-7 on the Ravens' second possession.

But even so, you got the impression that Indy's defense was solidifying. For one, despite an offseason of being reminded about how badly he was abused by Dwight Freeney, Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden still didn't seem to have an answer for the Colts' All-Pro. Even though he didn't give up three sacks like he did last year, Freeney beat him often, and again, Ogden, a seven-time Pro Bowler, needed help from a running back.

The Ravens' first possession ended with Kyle Boller passing over the middle on third-and-9 at midfield. The ball was tipped by cornerback Nick Harper, and Brackett, in his deep-zone coverage, caught the ball.

"They threw to the seam," he said, "and I was there."

Yes, and he was also there in the fourth quarter, again in deep-zone coverage, picking off Anthony Wright, who came in for Boller, who injured his leg in the second half. In all, the Colts forced four turnovers.

"I watch other quarterbacks, and [the Ravens' quarterbacks] never got comfortable tonight," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I'm really proud of the defense."

Lots of Colts deserve credit, but none more than Brackett, who led the defense with 10 tackles, including eight solo, and had two passes defensed. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound linebacker makes sense as an inspirational leader: He was a walk-on at Rutgers, went undrafted, and earned a job with the Colts as a special teamer. Compounding everything is the fact that he's lost three family members in recent years.

He is not built like a star linebacker. He is not tall, not cut, not that fast. But at 25, he is the Colts' starting mike linebacker. And he seems to know just what the Colts' defense needs. And he knows how to keep their success in perspective.

Despite finishing last year with 45 sacks, the Colts ranked 29th in total defense. Just because they played well Sunday night doesn't mean that their ranking will be higher. They gave up 340 yards.

"But that's just because they got a bunch of yards at the end," Brackett said.

Of course, it wasn't like the Colts shut down an offense the caliber of, say, the Colts. The Ravens should be better than they have been in recent years (31st last year) but progress might have to wait, depending on how long Boller is out with his leg injury. Once a team is one dimensional and behind, a lot of defenses can look good. The Colts are aware of this. As is Brackett.

That's why he cussed and shook his head when the Ravens killed the shutout.

"We want to be the best," he said.

Last year, they were good enough. Being great was more than good enough for Sunday night.

Seth Wickersham writes for ESPN The Magazine. Check out his NFL blog here Insider.

Seth Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs. Email him and follow him on Twitter at @sethwickersham.

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