Colts fans - you can exhale now. Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, and the rest of the Indianapolis organization delivered on their previously unfulfilled promise and won Super Bowl XLI in sound fashion tonight, 29-17 over the Chicago Bears.
This game was the final step in the evolution of the Indianapolis Colts to championship status. No longer are they the thrill-a-minute offense that scores 3 touchdowns in the span of 5 minutes to the detriment of its overworked defense. It's not that they're not capable; instead, they collectively realized that method wasn't going to win them a championship. Tonight, they took what they were given by the Bears' play-it-safe Cover 2 defense and mixed pass with run to perfection. Manning has seemed more unstoppable and awe-inspiring in the past, but in the last two games, he has never been better, and it resulted in a well-deserved championship.
Some of my thoughts watching the game:
-The final score will read 29-17, but in reality, it was never that close. The Bears put together one good drive the entire game, the one that resulted in the Muhsin Muhammad touchdown that put Chicago up 14-6. And even that was aided by a short field provided by an Indianapolis turnover. They exploited the one matchup they had a clear advantage in - their return game vs. the Colts' cover unit - to the tune of a Devin Hester TD return, but in every other way, the Bears were dominated. Both Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes were able to cut through the vaunted Chicago defense with regularity, allowing Indianapolis to chew up the clock, methodically breaking the Bears' spirits. The defense continued its shocking postseason turnaround and came up big in the second half.
- Speaking of chewing up the clock, the game turned to the Colts' for good on their first possession of the second half. Even though it only resulted in a field goal, it took 13 plays and extended for the better part of the third quarter. That wore down the Bears defense and prevented the Bears offense from ever getting back into rhythm, a fact that was punctuated by the ugly play of QB Rex Grossman later in the half.
-Speaking of Grossman, as much as the Bears depend on the running game to drive the offense and at points tend to take the game out of his hands, they, like any other team, need their QB to make at least a couple big plays to have any ability to win the game. Even back in 2001 when the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, a QB who was thought of as the weak link, he made some plays that won the game for them. Rex was never able to do that in this game and turned the ball over 3 times to boot. He's sure to be one of the most highly scrutinized players in the NFL when next season starts.
-Adam Vinatieri has now played in 5 Super Bowls, 4 with the Patriots and 1 with the Colts, and he has been part of teams that have beaten representatives from all 4 NFC divisions: as member of the Patriots, he helped to defeat the Rams of the NFC West, Panthers of the NFC South, and Eagles of the NFC East. Now his Colts team victimized the Bears of the NFC North. Useless tidbit, I know, but interesting to me.
-Classy move by Colts owner Jim Irsay during the trophy presentation to take a moment to reflect on the natural disaster in some Florida communities this past week and offer assistance on behalf of the organization. Nice to see there's a sense of perspective there amid the elation.
-I noticed today that during pre-game intros, both the Bears and Colts went out as a team instead of having individual player introductions. I know this is now the norm ever since the Patriots did it in 2002, and I applaud the new standard of glorifying the team instead of individuals. However, I wonder if the part of the motive for doing so is fear of being portrayed as selfish and individualistic, as the Rams were unfairly pictured in that 2002 Super Bowl when they had individual player introductions.
-As far as game MVP, you can't argue too much with Peyton Manning on a night when it was truly a team effort that won Indianapolis the championship. However, if it was up to me, I would have given the MVP to both Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, the Colts' running backs. Their ability to routinely break plays of 6, 7, 8 yards or longer was the key to the offense tonight.
-Chalk up another Super Bowl win for the AFC - that makes 4 in a row and 8 out of the last 10 Super Bowls won by the conference. And nothing leads me to think that the significant disparity between the NFC and AFC will change much heading into next year. But despite the win, I would say that the Bears have a better shot than the Colts at getting back to the big game next year just because the competition in the AFC is so fierce that it'll be tough to do two years in a row.