INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy remembered the feeling well.
The Colts' head coach wasn't the only one to remember it, either. One of the team's top defensive linemen had been here, too, far more than once.
And if not everyone around the Colts – not teammates, not all of the coaches and not a lot of observers and fans – had a whole lot of recent recollection of and experience with what happened in Baltimore in mid-January 2007, that didn't mean what happened wasn't impressive.
What happened that day was something different, and something perhaps unexpected.
Because what happened at M&T Bank Stadium was that the Colts' defense – maligned much of the season and overlooked entering the playoffs – put together a second consecutive stifling playoff performance, and the result was a 15-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional Playoff game.
And there was something else important about this performance.
This one put them within a game of the Super Bowl.
“We know we can play when we go out there,” Colts veteran defensive tackle Raheem Brock told the Indianapolis Star after the Colts held the Ravens without a touchdown to advance to their second AFC Championship Game in four seasons.
“That's what we did. We executed.”
That was indeed what the Colts did that day on defense.
Again and again and again.
As it had been the week before in a first-round playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts' defense was the deciding factor, holding the Ravens to 244 yards and 2-of-11 first downs.
So solid was the Colts' defensive in front of 71,162 fans – the largest crowd ever to see a game in the Ravens' stadium – that the Colts won without scoring a touchdown, with kicker
“Obviously, you want to get touchdowns and it's frustrating having to settle for field goals,” Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. “But we kind of saw how they were playing early and thought field goals would be enough.”
They were right. Not that it was easy.
The Colts never trailed after taking a 3-0 first-quarter lead on a 23-yard field goal by Vinatieri, and they turned an early Ravens turnover – cornerback Nick Harper forced a fumble by Ravens tight end Todd Heap – into a 6-0 lead when Vinatieri converted his second field goal in as many attempts. The second was good from 42 yards.
The Ravens trimmed the lead to 6-3 with a 40-yard field goal by Matt Stover, and after Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed intercepted Manning, Baltimore drove to the Colts 5. There, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair – who had played the Colts often in recent seasons as the quarterback for Tennessee – threw a pass that Indianapolis rookie safety
With momentum very much at stake, Manning drove the Colts into Ravens territory with a six-minute possession. Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal hit the cross bar.
It bounced through the uprights for a 9-3 Colts lead.
Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal with 10:57 remaining in the third quarter pushed the lead to 12-3, and the rest of the game was about Indianapolis maintaining field position and enough of a lead to advance to the championship game.
On this day, the Colts were more than up to a field-position, territorial contest.
“With a team (like the Ravens), we knew it was going to be a battle,” Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. “Every yard was going to be earned. Nothing was going to be given. If we didn't turn the ball over, we knew we were going to put ourselves in a good situation.
“Even if we have to punt, that's a slight victory. Somehow, we needed to realize that was a victory.”
Stover's 51-yarder 1:57 into the fourth quarter cut the Colts' lead to 12-6, but with just over half the fourth quarter remaining, the Colts got possession still leading by six.
Manning and the Colts again chewed clock and won a grind-it-out match-up, using 13 plays and 7:16 to drive 47 yards, with Vinatieri's 35-yard field goal pushing the Colts' lead to 15-6.
“You just feel like you're going to make it every time when he goes out there,” the Associated Press quoted Dungy as saying of Vinatieri. “In games like this, it's necessary.”
Colts defensive end
They also had a spot in the AFC Championship Game despite the offense not scoring a touchdown, and despite committing two turnovers.
They earned the spot in a way few thought possible only weeks before. The Colts had finished last in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing more than 170 yards a game, and after limiting Larry Johnson of the Chiefs the week before, they held Ravens Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis to 53 yards rushing.
Not that that was unfamiliar to Dungy. Or to Colts defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland. Dungy had spent 1995-2001 coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made four playoff appearances during that span, more often than not winning tight, defensive-oriented games.
McFarland played for Dungy in Tampa Bay, and had been acquired by the Colts in a mid-season trade in 2006. The pair hugged at the end of the game, and mentioned to one another that while this may have been something of a new look around Indianapolis, for them, it had a decidedly pleasant and familiar feel.
“We were talking at the end of the game,” Dungy said. “It was kind of a throwback game for us. We used to win a lot of games this way, so we kind of went back old school on them.”
Said McFarland, “Buc Ball might be the reason we got run out of Tampa. Today, we played it well. We lined up and it was field goals. It was ugly. It was turnovers. It was punting.
“We made enough plays to win the game. That's what Buc Ball is all about.”