Colts Finish First Half of 2008 Season 4-4
INDIANAPOLIS – This could only go on so long.
Tony Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach knew it, and knew that although the Colts had stayed in the playoff chase through the first two quarters of the season, they had to improve quickly to remain there.
So, although the Colts had the same record – 2-2 – in the second quarter of the season as they had in the first, and although they ended the quarter with an encouraging home victory over the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots, Dungy knew improvement was necessary.
"We have to put together a streak," Dungy said in the wake of an 18-15 victory over the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, November 2. "We can't get on this, 'Win one, lose one.' We have a tough game next week.
"We'll see. I'm not ready to call this 'defining' yet."
The Colts, after a 2-2 start, beat the Baltimore Ravens, 31-3, in early October to push above .500 for the first time in 2008, but lost back-to-back games by double digits on the road in mid-October. Those losses at Green Bay and Tennessee left the Colts under .500 through seven games for the first time in a decade.
Dungy remained confident, even in the wake of the back-to-back losses.
"There are probably 12 teams in the AFC that are right there," Dungy said six days before the Patriots game. "A couple of them are going to get hot and at the end of the year you're going to say, 'Wow,' and you're not going to really remember that they were 3-4 or 4-3. A couple of other teams are going to fall by the wayside and have a poor year. And a lot of teams that are going to be in between. But if you're one of those teams that gets hot, you don't remember.
"That's really where we are. We have to be one of those teams that gets hot, and we have to get on a streak."
The Colts did exactly that, but first, a look at the four games in the second quarter of the 2008 season:
Game 5: INDIANAPOLIS 31, BALTIMORE RAVENS 3
The first four games of the 2008 season were difficult for the Colts. They lost twice, and when they won, they needed huge, dramatic, second-half comebacks to do it.
In Week 5, the Colts left nothing to chance.
They took an early lead, held that lead, and never let it get close, winning for the first time in Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis by beating the Baltimore Ravens, 31-3, on Sunday, October 12.
"It was a long time coming, getting that first win here," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It was good to see us really play from the opening whistle. It's just been a long time, but that's the way we can play when we're on top of things. . . .
"It was good for our young guys to see how we can play when we are on top of things."
The Colts forced five takeaways and took a lead of 31-0 early in the third quarter en route to their most one-sided victory since a 41-10 victory over New Orleans in the 2007 regular-season opener.
"This is exactly what Colts football is all about," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "First to last whistle . . . everybody – offensive, defense and special teams. We're just happy to get it going."
Quarterback Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes, with no interceptions. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught two touchdown passes, his first multiple-touchdown game since 2006.
Two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne had another touchdown, and so did running back Dominic Rhodes.
"It was certainly fun to get a win, especially here at home," said Manning, who completed 19 of 28 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 134.7.
"It had been disappointing that we hadn't won a home game yet. We played an excellent team today and we did play well. We got off to a fast start, and the defense did an excellent job holding them to three points. That was impressive."
The Colts' defense, which entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL against the run, limited Baltimore – ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing – to 51 yards on 19 carries. In the first half, as Indianapolis pulled away, the Ravens rushed 12 times for 14 yards.
The Ravens finished the half with three first downs.
Turning point: On the Colts' second series, Manning completed his second-longest pass of the season, this one a 67-yarder to Harrison. The touchdown gave Indianapolis a 7-0 lead. "We wanted to be aggressive," Manning said. "Against Baltimore, they're such an excellent defense and they're so smart, you have to pick and choose your times to be aggressive, but you do have to be. If you just sit back on your heels, that's what they feast on. We wanted to take some shots down the field." Of the 67-yarder to Harrison, Manning said, "That was big to hit. That kind of set the tempo for the first half." Said Dungy, "That's the way Baltimore plays. They come after you. They blitz. They overload things. They try to crowd the running game and you have to make big plays. We saw it on tape. We saw it in our games against them the last couple of times. A lot of times you're just throwing a half a step early because of the rush or a free guy there. You have some opunities to get big plays, but it's not going to be a pretty game, a consistent-drive-the-ball-15-plays game. They won't let you play like that. You have to make big plays and we felt our receivers would if we could get things blocked up."
Moment to remember: The entire first half was memorable for the Colts. They forced three turnovers by halftime, and with the defense limiting the Ravens' running game, the pass rush had a chance to focus on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The Colts finished the game with four sacks, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. "That's how we're built," Dungy said. "We've got to get off to fast starts and get ahead of people. When we get ahead, it lets us play to our strength. But we have to be able to play no matter what style the game turns out to be. I think our guys just played better."
Note: The victory over the Ravens was the Colts' first at home since the previous December, and their first victory in Lucas Oil Stadium, the new, state-of-the-art, retractable-roof facility that opened in August 2008 in downtown Indianapolis. The Colts had lost two preseason games at Lucas Oil Stadium and lost their first two regular-season games. They also lost their last two games in the RCA Dome the previous season. "It feels very good," Mathis said. "We thought we were going to have to move back across the street for a minute (to their former home, the RCA Dome), but we're happy to get that first win."
Quote to note: "We talked about playing with that passion that we had the last four minutes of that last game. I think that was our message early on in the game, 'Let's play the whole 60 minutes like that last four minutes.'''
--- Middle Linebacker Gary Brackett
Game 6: GREEN BAY PACKERS 34, INDIANAPOLIS 14
History, surroundings and lore meant little to the Colts on Sunday, October 19. As Head Coach Tony Dungy saw it, what mattered was this:
The Colts, playing in historic Lambeau Field for the first time in nearly a decade, did too many of the things that Dungy said they did too often in the first five games of the season. As a result, they sustained their first road loss of the season, as the Green Bay Packers took a 10-point halftime lead en route to a 34-14 victory in front of 71,010 on a gray, mid-October afternoon.
"It was a very, very disappointing game, obviously," Dungy said after his eighth loss in eight trips to Lambeau Field, with the first seven coming when he was the head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001.
"It's kind of the way we've been all year. We've been up and down, and not consistent. We showed more of that today. It's disappointing that we didn't play better and give ourselves a chance to win. Green Bay took advantage of everything. They played smarter and sharper than we did.
"Consequently, they won the game by a big score."
The loss dropped the Colts to 3-3 for the season. The last time the Colts were .500 or under after October 15 was 2002, Dungy's first season with the team.
"I can't really give you the one simple answer and kind of summarize what's going on," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 21 of 42 passes for 229 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions – each of which were returned for touchdowns – for a passer rating of 46.6.
"We just need to play better. I need to play better and we have to find a way to get into the end zone. . . . Our offense needs to try to get the lead to help our defense a little bit. We didn't do our job offensively today and I didn't do my job."
The 20-point margin of defeat was the Colts' largest since a 44-17 loss in Jacksonville in December of 2006.
"Honestly, we're playing way too inconsistent," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. "Coach Dungy keeps talking about it. As long as we keep playing up and down, we won't win games. We have to get consistent, fix the problems and move forward."
A 99-yard interception return by safety Aaron Rouse – the longest in Packers history – finished the Packers' scoring with less than five minutes remaining.
"We have 53 guys and about 18 coaches," Dungy said. "Everybody has to do their job. They have to do their job on every play. The same guys who are here who have done their job in the past, we aren't getting it done. We have to practice better. We have to work harder. That's the only way I know how to do it. . . .
"It's disappointing, but again, we've kind of been that way all year. We've had a good series, a good quarter. We haven't strung, really, four quarters together. We haven't strung back-to-back games together. We're just very up and down right now. We have to work to get out of that."
Turning point: The Colts, who last visited Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., in November 2000, fell behind by 10 points at halftime, a lead the Packers extended quickly when safety Nick Collins intercepted a pass that deflected off the hands of Wayne and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown. "That was a big, game-changing play," Manning said. "A good job by them catching the tipped ball. That certainly put us behind, put in a catch-up mode, which is a challenge versus these guys." That gave the Packers a 24-7 lead less than three minutes into the second half, and just under 10 minutes later, a short field goal by Crosby extended the Packers' lead to 20. It was the Colts' largest deficit of the season, and the largest they had faced since trailing, 23-0, in San Diego the previous November.
Moment to remember: Dungy said he didn't regret opting to punt on 4th-and-1 from the Colts 49 with just under 10 minutes remaining before halftime. At the time, the Colts trailed 10-7 and after the punt, Green Bay drove 89 yards on 11 plays to take a 17-7 lead. The Colts never cut the lead under 10 again. "Everybody wants you to go for it on fourth down and when you go for it in your own territory early in the game, you either have a play you really feel like is going to work and you're very confident you're going to make it or you have a little sense of desperation," Dungy said. "Had I known we would kick the ball down to their 10 and they'd keep it eight minutes and score a touchdown, we probably would have gone for it. I didn't expect that to happen. I had confidence that we could get them stopped and get the ball back. It all works together. In hindsight, the way the way the game went, I would have liked to have gone for it. I didn't really second-guess that."
Note: Colts wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, who made a combined 10 Pro Bowls from 1998-2007, caught a combined four passes for 35 yards against the Packers. The Packers had entered the game without Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris. "There was certainly a lot of double coverage," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "We have to find a way to beat double coverage and put those guys in the best position. Marvin had two catches and Reggie had two catches. That's not what we want, so we need to do a better job getting the ball in their hands and giving it to them where they can make some plays. That's probably my fault." Said Wayne, "They're on scholarship, too. They're good football players. They're going to win some and we're going to win some. That's just the way the game goes."
Quote to note: "It was one of those where you got taken out back behind the woodshed – everything just gets handed to you. The one thing about it is, it's early. We have a long season left. We just have to get a winning streak going."
Game 7: TENNESSEE TITANS 31, INDIANAPOLIS 21
They were gritty, gutty and at times, very efficient. And for nearly three quarters of a nationally-televised AFC South showdown, that was enough for the Colts.
Then, the Tennessee Titans did what they did much of the season. They made clutch plays, forced crucial turnovers and won the game.
The Titans, then 7-0 and at the time the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team, rallied from deficits of 7-3 and 14-6 with a solid, efficient final 21 minutes, scoring 25 consecutive points en route to a 31-21 victory over Indianapolis (3-4) in front of 69,143 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, October 27.
"It was a disappointing game from our standpoint," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "We went into the fourth quarter with a chance to make some plays to win the ball game, and when that happened – when that time came – they made them all."
The Colts, after taking a 14-6 lead early in the third quarter, allowed four consecutive second-half scoring drives – including three in the fourth quarter – and failed to convert critical fourth downs on back-to-back second-half drives.
The Titans turned the fourth-down stops into 10 points and a 24-14 lead, and after safety Chris Hope's second interception of the game with just under four minutes remaining, rookie running back Chris Johnson's 16-yard touchdown run gave the Titans a 31-14 lead.
"I think they just made the plays when they had to in the fourth quarter," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "Their defense stepped up. They had a couple of key interceptions, got the ball back and their offense converted."
The Colts took an eight-point lead on the first possession of the second half, driving 64 yards on nine plays and scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to tight end Dallas Clark.
On the ensuing possession, the Titans drove 80 yards on 14 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by running back LenDale White. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins passed for the two-point conversion to fullback Ahmard Hall to tie it, 14-14, with 3:21 remaining in the quarter.
Until recovering an onside kick attempt with just over a minute remaining and kneeling out the clock, Tennessee never had a possession on which it didn't score thereafter.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," Dungy said. "They have a good team. They're playing with confidence. They complement each other well. We played really high energy tonight, but didn't play well enough to win.
"We have a lot of guys who have been there, and they understand where we are right now. We're not going to be able to afford to lose too many more. You have to get yourself on a winning streak. You have to start playing well consistently for four quarters week after week after week.
"That's what we have to fight to do. We have guys in that room that can do it."
Turning point: After taking an eight-point lead early in the second half, the Colts did not score again until just over a minute remained, with the Titans pulling away for the victory. During that span, the Colts failed to convert what Manning considered two convertible fourth-down situations. Late in the third quarter, with the score tied, 14-14, the Colts faced 4th-and-1 from their 49. Running back Dominic Rhodes ran up the middle for a 1-yard loss. The Titans then drove 17 yards in six plays, taking their first lead since the first quarter on a 48-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. On the Colts' next series, they faced 4th-and-2 on the Titans 34. Manning threw to his right toward wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who ran a quick out pattern. Former Colts cornerback Nick Harper broke up the pass to give the Titans possession, Thirteen plays and 66 yards later, White's 1-yard run gave the Titans a 24-14 lead and the Colts never got closer than 10 points again. "We're fourth down and two feet and we didn't make it," Dungy said. "On the other one, we have about three yards to go. It's too far to kick a field goal. We have confidence in our offense. Their defense stepped up and made them. That certainly turned the momentum, no question." Said Manning, "That kind of ended up being the difference in the game. Those are fourth downs we have to be able to convert. It'd be nice to be able to get them on third down, is what we'd like to be able to do. Those were really disappointing."
Moment to remember: For the Colts, the two most memorable moments of the game came on receptions by Clark. Clark, a year after setting a franchise record for touchdown receptions by a tight end, hadn't caught a touchdown pass in the season's first six games. Against Tennessee, Clark caught a pair of touchdown passes from Manning – a 10-yarder late in the first quarter and a 19-yarder early in the third quarter to give the Colts an eight-point lead. Clark finished the game with seven receptions for a team-high 94 yards.
Note: For the Colts, it was their second consecutive double-digit road loss. They lost to Green Bay, 34-14, in Green Bay, Wis., the week before. The loss also moved the Colts under .500 in October for the first time since 2001, the season before Dungy's arrival. They made the playoffs every season from 2002-2007. "We're just sort of dealing with the present right now," Manning said. "It's a disappointing loss, a division loss." The loss also marked the first time the Colts lost consecutive October games since 2004.
Quote to note: "It's going to make it doubtful for us to win the division, but we'll see what the last nine games bring. If we play well and get ourselves on a streak and get going, we can be a playoff team. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen as we've seen in two of the last three years. It's disappointing, but we have to get over it fast. We have a tough game in six days. In the grand scheme of things, it probably means the division title is probably going to be tough to do, but I think we still have a lot in front of us."
Game 8: INDIANAPOLIS 18, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 15
They talked of playing consistently, of not making mistakes, of making clutch plays. On Sunday, November 2, the Colts did all of those things on a national stage.
The Colts, after back-to-back double-digit losses, on the first Sunday of November played what several players called one of their most consistent games of the season at one of the most important times, rallying from a second-half deficit to beat the New England Patriots, 18-15, in front of 66,508 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
A 52-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri provided the winning points with 8:05 remaining.
"We went in talking about it the entire week, 'No Mistakes,''' Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "We said, 'Play good, solid football. Whoever makes the mistakes at the end of the game is going to lose it more than win a game.'
"We just battled play to play. Every play was important, to be honest with you."
Said offensive tackle Ryan Diem, "For the past couple of weeks we've been shooting ourselves in the foot. That was obvious. We've been playing close games, but we haven't been getting it done. We haven't been making plays when we need to. Today, we did. We were focused on this game like we were every week, but we have to get a streak started. One down and many more to go."
It was that sort of effort needed against the defending AFC Champions, Colts players said afterward – and a victory Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said was critical.
"It was the eighth game of the season, a home game which we thought we had to win," Dungy said. "We lost two home games already. We didn't feel like we could lose another one. We're coming off a disappointing game, short week and a very physical game last week.
"I thought our guys practiced with some resolve and played with some resolve."
Peyton Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, completed 21 of 29 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 121.9.
"It's a big win," Manning said. "It's important what we do with this. It sure would be nice to build off this, try to keep winning, get some kind of streak or some kind of rhythm established, but it doesn't get any easier from here on out."
A 12-yard pass from Manning to wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez provided the only points of the first quarter, but the Patriots got two field goals from Stephen Gostkowksi to make it, 7-6, at halftime. On the opening drive of the second half, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 6-yard run gave New England its first lead, 12-7.
On the ensuing drive, Gonzalez caught a nine-yard touchdown pass with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter to give Indianapolis a one-point lead. Reggie Wayne caught a two-point conversion pass to push the lead to three.
The Patriots then drove 69 yards on 15 plays, tying the game, 15-15, on a 25-yard field goal by Gastkowski. The Colts then drove 48 yards on eight plays, with Vinatieri – who played his first 10 seasons with the Patriots – connecting on a 52-yard field goal for the game-winning points.
New England had two more possessions. The first ended when safety Bob Sanders intercepted Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel on 4th-and-15 from the Colts 45.
After a Colts punt, the Patriots regained possession at their 20 with :21 remaining. After two incomplete passes, Cassel passed to wide receiver Randy Moss, who gained 22 yards before a fumble that was recovered by Colts cornerback Tim Jennings.
Turning point: A nine-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Gonzalez with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter gave the Colts a 13-12 lead, and rather than kick an extra point, the Colts went for two. On the play, Manning threw a high pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who had missed the previous Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury. Wayne leaped high and was hit hard after he caught the ball. He maintained possession, then flipped the ball high in the air. "It was huge," Wayne said. "It made it a three-point game. We've been working on that play for weeks. We finally had the opportunity to get it. I actually saw him coming, so I had time to catch it and close my eyes." The previous week's practices were the Wayne missed since his rookie season, 2002.
Moment to remember: Vinatieri long has been known as one of the premier clutch kickers in NFL history. Against the Patriots, his former team, he converted under pressure again. Vinatieri, who twice kicked game-winning field goals in the final seconds of Super Bowls for the Patriots, kicked a 52-yard field goal with midway through the fourth quarter to provide the game-winning points. It was Vinatieri's longest field goal since 2002. "To be able to get one on them was a great feeling for all of us," Vinatieri said. "It's always nice to hit them and help your team put some points on the board. It has been a little while since I've had one that long, but it left my foot and felt pretty good."
Note: The Colts did not commit a fumble, did not throw an interception, and did not allow a sack. Playing without their starting cornerbacks, Indianapolis also did not allow a pass of more than 20 yards. As significantly, they did not have a yard in penalties. The Colts, who entered the game having committed 51 penalties for 382 yards – uncharacteristically high for a team that had been in the Top 10 in fewest penalties in the NFL the previous six seasons – committed one, and it came at the end of the first half with the Colts trying to spike the ball for a last-play field goal. The call was a false start, with no yards enforced.
Quote to note: "When you don't shoot yourself in the foot with different things, the results are usually good. We were lucky. We came out on top. It was awesome. . . . To win this way was really gratifying. It was a really, really great effort by everybody."