Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Cinderella Colts Get it Done Again

It's a team that is the first in NFL history to start consecutive seasons 9-0 and has arguably the preeminent quarterback in the game. Yet, it seems appropriate to label the suddenly tough Indianapolis Colts a bona fide Cinderella story after their 15-6 slugfest upset win over the talkative Baltimore Ravens.

The Colts shed their two biggest demons of the 2006 season with their performance in this win:

First, their struggles on the road this season, which included a couple of embarrassing losses to the Texans and the Jaguars. And they were facing a stadium full of Ravens fans out for blood, still bitter about the Colts' departure from Baltimore more than two decades ago. That's about as hostile of an environment as it gets.

And even with the D's impressive showing against Larry Johnson and the Chiefs last week, it was widely thought that the unit wouldn't be able to sustain it two weeks in a row, surely not when you give the Ravens a lot of time to prepare, which they had with the bye.

The most impressive part about it was that Peyton Manning, by anyone's standards, had a fairly mediocre game. Instead, they did what you have to do to win playoff games: they played tough defense, got great special teams play, and ran the ball to perfection, never better than in their stunning and methodical game-clinching drive to essentially run out the clock in the fourth quarter. If any game was an affirmation of their off-season moves, namely signing clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri and entrusting the running game to Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, it was this one.

As a native of Maryland (though I'm first and foremost a Redskins fan), logic dictated that I should have been rooting for the Ravens. But to be honest, I couldn't help but smile seeing the reaction on the sidelines when Vinatieri kicked the game-clinching field goal. None was better than the jubilant yet characteristically understated expression on Tony Dungy's face. After the personal tragedy and professional failure he had to endure at the end of the 2005 playoffs, not to mention a rep as a coach that can't win the big one, it's nice to see him advancing in the playoffs with a chance to play for the Super Bowl.

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