Colts play a little 'Buc ball' as playoff run continues
This may be new to the Indianapolis Colts, but it isn't new to Tony Dungy. The Colts played a little "Buc ball" in the win over the Ravens, writes Greg Garber.
BALTIMORE -- Amid the dazzling pyrotechnics that usually pass for the Indianapolis Colts' offense, it's sometimes easy to forget that Tony Dungy is at heart a defensive guy.
Perhaps this is why after a long, grinding game in which his team failed to score a touchdown, the Colts' head coach was beaming Saturday evening.
Indianapolis, with all of its scoring provided by Adam Vinatieri's five playoff-record-tying field goals, defeated the favored Baltimore Ravens, 15-6. It was the first NFL playoff game to feature zero touchdowns since 1979 and only the fourth in history. It was also just the second time in the career of Peyton Manning that he's failed to get a TD and the Colts still won.
"It was a throwback game for us. We went back old school on them."
Manning, who bore more than a passing resemblance to his younger brother Eli, had his second consecutive mediocre playoff outing, completing 15 of 30 passes for 170 yards and two interceptions. His passer rating of 39.6 was his worst in a winning effort.
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This was a sound strategy, given the deathly conservative nature of the Ravens' offense. During the regular season, Baltimore won 13 games by operating a low-risk offense and taking care of the ball. Their plus-17 turnover net led the league. Against the Colts, however, they lost the ball four times.
The second turnover, early in the second quarter, may have ultimately decided the game. Steve McNair's pass intended for tight end Todd Heap was intercepted by Colts strong safety Antoine Bethea at the Colts' 1-yard-line. Not only did the Ravens lose their best chance for a touchdown, Indianapolis put together a 13-play drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal by Vinatieri that bounced, fortuitously, over the crossbar.
"You can't turn the ball over in a championship-style game," explained Ravens head coach Brian Billick. "That's an awful lot to overcome."
The Colts locked it down with a muscular drive in the fourth quarter. Dominic Rhodes ran hard on five consecutive carries and, on third and five, Manning feathered a perfect ball to tight end Dallas Clark. Though he was covered well by Corey Ivy, Clark dove, bobbled the ball and secured it just before he hit the ground for a 14-yard gain. Vinatieri's fifth field goal followed seven plays later.
Since 1999, the Colts have had the NFL's best regular-season record (89-39) -- six games better than the New England Patriots. But while New England has won three Super Bowls in that time, Indianapolis had won just three playoff games coming into the 2006 postseason.
For the past three seasons, no team has teased more than the Colts, who have won four straight division titles and made the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons.
They reached the 2003 AFC Championship game but lost to the Patriots. They started the 2004 season with eight straight victories, then lost a divisional playoff game to the Patriots. Last season, Indianapolis won its first 13 games -- but got decked by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
This season? More of the same: A nine-game winning streak to open the season, followed by a 3-4 finish that effectively took the Colts out of the Super Bowl discussion. Perhaps for the better.
Are the Colts feeling less pressure this season?
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," Dungy said. "Our expectations were the same as last year, even though no one else's were."
Manning was less definitive. "Uh ... ehh ... yeah," he said, mulling the question. "It seems like last week's game didn't generate that much interest. All everybody showed was the Seattle-Dallas game. Let's get on with it.
"We were underdogs. Everyone had the Ravens winning and didn't give us much of a chance. When you get in the playoffs, it's hard to be totally under the radar. Now, we're in the championship game and all eyes will be on us."
The Colts will play the winner of Sunday's San Diego-New England game in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday. For Indianapolis, it will be the second conference championship game in four seasons. Whoever Indianapolis ends up playing must prepare for the anti-Colts.
They are making a postseason living playing out of character.
Manning has now thrown five interceptions and one touchdown in two playoff games and his passer rating is a ludicrous 58.3. The run defense -- savaged for its last-place ranking during the season -- stoned Larry Johnson last week and held the Chiefs without a first down in their first seven possessions, a span that consumed 42 minutes. The two-game rushing total is a lean 127 yards -- or 39 fewer than Maurice Jones-Drew had in the Jaguars' 44-17 blowout of the Colts that signaled the end of their swoon.
Certainly, the defense has been buoyed by the return of free safety Bob Sanders, but there is more to this renaissance than one player. The Colts' defense, finally, is pulling its weight.
"They weren't always as bad as they looked," Dungy said. "We knew what the problems were. We knew we were getting better. And now, we're starting to hit our stride at the right time."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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