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In the sixth of a 10-part series look at the Colts' 2009 AFC Championship season, examines the undefeated first quarter of the season.


Colts Go Unbeaten in First Quarter of 2009 Regular Season

INDIANAPOLIS – Despite major changes, and despite as new a look as the franchise had had in years, the Colts started the 2009 NFL season as they ended the previous one.

And for the Colts, that was a very good thing.

With Jim Caldwell taking over as head coach, with a new starting wide receiver and with two new coordinators, the Colts – who had won their final nine games the previous regular season – continued in the first quarter of the 2009 season to do what they had done much of the last decade.

They played smartly. They played consistently.

Most of all, they won. Consistently.

With QB-Peyton Manning, the NFL's Most Valuable Player the previous season, starting the season as efficiently and productively as he had in any of his first 11 seasons, the Colts played a variety of different styles in the first four games of the regular season, and set the tone for what would be a theme throughout one of the most memorable, successful seasons in franchise history.

Whatever the strategy of the opponent . . .

Whatever might go wrong early . . .

Whatever the deficit . . .

Whatever the circumstance, what defined the Colts through much of 2009 was an ability to win close games, to play professionally and to win, and in the first four games of the season, the Colts did that, winning a tight game in the opener, rallying for a dramatic victory in Week 2, then pulling away early for a comfortable victory at home and another on the road.

They also set the tone in another way early.

Throughout the 2009 season, aside from consistency and the ability to come from behind, a trait of the Colts that carried over from past seasons and into the current one was resiliency. Under former Head Coach Tony Dungy, the phrase "Next Man Up" was used so often it grew from an approach in specific circumstances to a franchise-defining motto, one that became even more pertinent in Caldwell's first season after he took the head coaching position after seven seasons as an assistant.

Anthony Gonzalez, who started the season at wide receiver opposite perennial Pro Bowl selection Reggie Wayne following the offseason release of eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, left the season opener with a knee injury. Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie produced in his place.

Bob Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl safety and the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, began the season inactive. Melvin Bullitt produced in his place.

Cornerback Marlin Jackson, a starter in 2007 and 2008, began the season as a nickelback as he continued to rehabilitate a knee injury that cost him the last half of the previous season. Rookie Jerraud Powers produced in his place.

And the first major moves of Caldwell's tenure began to produce benefits, too.

Shortly upon his hiring the previous January, Caldwell moved quickly to install Larry Coyer as defensive coordinator and Ray Rychleski as special teams coordinator. In a season-opening victory over Jacksonville, late blitzes helped the Colts stop a late drive, and a special teams that had struggled at times in kickoff coverage in recent seasons began to show signs of the progression that would have the area one of the team's more improved areas by season's end.

The best in that area was yet to come.

A look at the four games in the first quarter of the 2009 season:

Caldwell doesn't much like discussing personal achievements, and Manning doesn't much like comparisons to John Unitas. Each ended the 2009 regular-season opener a bit uncomfortable.

Manning, in his 12th NFL season, tied Unitas' franchise record for career victories by a quarterback in the 2009 regular-season opener – a 14-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of 65,757 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

The outcome also gave the Colts a victory in Caldwell's first game as head coach.

"I certainly think our team played well, and did a great job," Caldwell said. "I think that one win . . . all it tells you is we won't go 0-16 this year."

The game, the Colts' ninth season-opening victory in 11 seasons, was not settled until the Colts' blitzing, effective pass rush forced Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to throw incomplete in the game's final two minutes.

Manning, after throwing a red-zone interception on the first series, completed 28 of 38 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown, throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to Wayne.

Wayne's touchdown gave the Colts a brief cushion in what otherwise was a close game throughout. The Colts committed two first-half, red-zone turnovers then took a 7-6 halftime lead, with running back Joseph Addai scoring on a 3-yard run with 3:39 remaining before halftime.

Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee kicked first-half field goals of 24 and 46 yards, with his second field goal cutting Indianapolis' lead to one with :59 remaining in the second quarter.

After Wayne's touchdown, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (97 yards, 21 carries) scored on a seven-yard fourth-quarter run around left end to make it, 14-12. The Colts then stopped a direct-snap run by Jones-Drew on the two-point conversion.

The Colts had a chance to secure the victory offensively, but rookie Donald Brown was stopped for no gain on 3rd- and 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 35 just before the two-minute warning. The defense then secured the victory by holding Jacksonville without a first down on the ensuing possession.

"You always want to let everyone know that we're here, too," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "We play defense in Indianapolis. It was just a good morale victory and we'll take it."

Turning point: The Colts held the Jaguars on downs on a late fourth-quarter drive to secure their 13th victory over the Jaguars in 17 meetings between the teams. Blitzes by middle linebacker Gary Brackett helped force incomplete passes by Garrard on 3rd- and 4th-and-8 from the Jaguars 37, and the Colts ran out the clock thereafter. "The defense picked up the slack for the offense right there," Manning said.

Moment to remember: In a bit of an usual twist, the game's most memorable moment may have come shortly after the game. That was when Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer Jim Irsay awarded Caldwell a game ball for his first victory as an NFL head coach. "That was significant – better than the alternative, that's for certain," Caldwell said, laughing. "It was appreciated from the owner and the team. Like I said before, I'm not certain how significant it (the victory) is other than it just tells us we won't lose them all this year." Caldwell became the eighth Colts head coach to win his career opener (Keith Molesworth, 1953; Don McCafferty, 1970; Ted Marchibroda, 1975; Mike McCormack, 1980; Ron Meyer, 1986; Lindy Infante, 1996; Dungy, 2002).

Note: Manning won his 118th career game as a starter. That tied him with Unitas, who played for the Baltimore Colts from 1956-72. "There have been so many people responsible for all of those wins – different coaches and great teammates," said Manning, adding of Unitas, "I know how good of a player he was, because my dad (former NFL quarterback Archie Manning) always said his favorite players growing up were Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas. That sort of puts it in perspective for me what kind of player Unitas was. I've never felt comfortable with the comparisons to him. I know he played for this franchise, but I think he's kind of in his own place. But I am proud of those wins, because I know a lot of people have put a lot of hard work into those wins, so it's very humbling."

Quote to note: "It was a tough battle. We thought it would be a grind, and it indeed was. Every time we face Jacksonville, it's a tough, hard-nosed battle. Our team played tough, hard and played with a lot of energy. We had some good things happen out there. That's a hard team to battle and stop, and our team did a good job doing that."--- Caldwell


The Colts didn't have possession long in their first prime-time game of the 2009 regular season.

The Miami Dolphins' Wildcat-spiced offense, giving an inspired and sometimes-dominant effort in front of a frenzied Monday Night Football crowd, contributed to that. That was the bad news for the Colts that mid-September evening.

The good? The offense didn't need it long.

The Colts, despite a huge time-of-possession advantage for the Dolphins, rallied twice in the fourth quarter, first tying the game, then scoring a game-winning touchdown in the final four minutes for a dramatic, record-setting, 27-23 victory in front of 66,227 at Land Shark Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

"That one was out of the ordinary," Caldwell said afterward.

The Colts, who held possession just 14:53, had three drives consuming less than a minute, scoring 17 points on the three possessions – an 80-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark on the game's first play, a field-goal drive on the last drive of the first half and a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a 48-yard game-winning touchdown reception by Garcon.

"We've been in that situation before," said Wayne, who caught three passes for 37 yards while being double-covered throughout much of the game after a 10-reception, 162-yard performance in the season opener.

"There was no panic. I just take a 'W' any way I can take it. The way this league is, anything can happen."

The Dolphins ran 84 offensive plays to 35 for the Colts, and Miami had 27 first downs to 14 for the Colts. Miami rushed 49 times for 239 yards.

"We have to play better defense than that," linebacker Tyjuan Hagler said.

After Clark's early touchdown, the Dolphins' offense established a game-long pattern on the ensuing possession, moving 75 yards on nine plays on a drive that consumed 6:06, and the teams exchanged field goals throughout the rest of the opening half.

Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter kicked first-half field goals of 45 and 44 yards, and Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri converted attempts of 43 and 48 yards, with the last bouncing off the left upright and caroming through to tie the game at 13-13 on the half's final play.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, and the Dolphins took a 20-13 lead with 13:23 remaining on a three-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown, a play that capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:45.

The Colts, who never trailed by more than seven, moved quickly on their next possession. First, Manning found Clark for a 49-yard gain on 2nd-and-3 from the Colts 24, and four plays later, Brown scored his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run. Vinatieri's conversion made it 20-20.

One possession later, Carpenter's third field goal – a 45-yarder – capped a 10-play, 51-yard drive that used 6:16 and gave Miami a 23-20 lead. The Colts moved quickly for a go-ahead touchdown on a quick pass from Manning to Garcon, and the Colts had what became the winning points. The Dolphins drove to the Colts 30, but Colts safety Antoine Bethea leaped in front of rookie Brian Hartline for an interception to secure the victory.

"We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight, a long battle," Bethea said. "At the end of the day, you have to make plays at the end."

Turning point: After Carpenter's final field goal, the Dolphins led, 23-20, with 3:50 remaining. The Colts moved 80 yards on four plays on the next possession, with Manning throwing 15 yards to Wayne and 17 to Clark before throwing incomplete to Garcon. On the next play, Manning called an audible at the line, then threw an inside screen to Garcon. Forty-eight yards later, Garcon had his first NFL touchdown, and the Colts had what became the winning points. The possession used 32 seconds. "It was perfect," said Garcon, who had 43 friends and family in attendance and who scored on his lone reception of the game. "I'm glad it came at the perfect time."

Moment to remember: Clark, one of the NFL's top tight ends from 2006 through 2008, started the most productive yardage game of his career with a play that tied the longest play of his career, and did it on the game's first play. After Manning faked a handoff to Addai, the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback threw deep to Clark, who beat linebacker Akin Ayodele down the middle of the field. Clark caught the pass behind the Dolphins' defense, broke a tackle, and outran the defense for an 80-yard touchdown. The play used 12 seconds, tying the record for quickest touchdown in Monday Night Football history.

Note: The victory was the eighth in the Colts' last nine appearances on Monday Night Football. It also came in the Colts' first game in the stadium since winning Super Bowl XLI there in February of 2007, and also moved Manning past Unitas into first place on the franchise's all-time list for victories by a quarterback with 119 victories. "I don't feel comfortable with these comparisons to Unitas, but I'm very proud to wear the same uniform as Johnny Unitas," Manning said. "He was a real winner. I'm proud to be a part of a lot of wins along with a lot of great players throughout the Colts' organization since I've been here. It's a very humbling feeling."

Quote to note: "We didn't get many possessions. I hate to say it, but we've done it before a few times. We just kind of stay loose over there and know, 'Hey, when we get the ball we have to be effective, especially in the second half. . . .' It's about being efficient when it counted in the fourth quarter. That's really what the game's all about."--- Manning


Manning didn't like much about the Colts' offense early.

That changed quickly and actually, it changed a lot.

A week after rallying the Colts from two fourth-quarter deficits, Manning overcame a comparatively slow start by the Colts' offense in the third game of the 2009 season, throwing four touchdown passes in the second and third quarters and leading the Colts to a 31-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in front of 62,692 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

"It was imant to stay patient," Manning said after leading the Colts to a second nationally-televised, prime-time victory in as many weeks. "You want to come out and keep the crowd out of it. Our defense was doing that, but we had three three-and-outs in a row. We wanted to be aggressive, go three wides, take our shots and spread them out.

"We didn't hit them early, but we hit them when it counted as the game went on."

It was the Colts' 12th consecutive regular-season victory dating to the previous season, and their sixth consecutive regular-season road victory dating to last season.

Each total was one shy of the franchise record.

The Colts rushed for 126 yards on 31 carries, with Addai rushing for 63 yards on 13 carries and Brown rushing for 40 yards on 14 carries.

"I thought that was important," Manning said. "That was one of the big reasons we hit some of those plays off play action. Donald and Joe were popping some runs; the line was getting some push. That's when we're at our best, when we're three-dimensional – drop back, play action and run."

Arizona, the defending NFC Champion, committed three turnovers, two in a second quarter during which Indianapolis turned a three-point deficit into a 21-3 lead.

The Colts, a week after allowing the Dolphins to hold possession 45:07 and to rush 49 times for 239 yards, held the Cardinals to 24 yards rushing on 12 carries.

"NFL players have a lot of pride," Manning said. "They (the defensive players) were disappointed in their performance last week. They really came out and answered the bell. That was really impressive."

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner twice, Mathis had one sack, and defensive end Raheem Brock had one in the fourth quarter for a 28-yard loss.

"Our guys revved it up when it came time to rush the passer," Caldwell said.

"That's what we're built for," Mathis said. "We went out and did our job. We worked all week on it and we reaped the benefits of the hard work."

After taking a 7-3 lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Wayne in the second quarter, the Colts pushed the lead to 11 on the ensuing series, with Manning passing 10 yards to Clark, whose touchdown pass capped a six-play, 57-yard drive.

Manning then capped a four-play, 68-yard drive with a 53-yard touchdown pass deep down the right sideline to Garcon, who beat Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for his second touchdown in as many weeks.

The Cardinals closed the half by driving deep into Colts territory, but Bethea intercepted a caroming pass in the end zone to preserve the Colts' 18-point halftime lead.

The Cardinals – who took the lead on a 38-yard first-quarter field goal by Neil Rackers – cut the lead to 11 points on the first drive of the third quarter, with Warner driving Arizona 73 yards on eight plays and capping the drive with a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the left corner of the end zone. The drive consumed 4:10.

The Colts then pushed the lead back to 18 with Manning's fourth touchdown pass – a 3-yarder in the third quarter to Addai.

"It's big, but we can't get complacent," Mathis said of the victory. "That gap can close in any given week. We've got to keep doing what we do."

Turning point: The Colts, six days after rallying for a physically-draining, 27-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins, trailed the Cardinals 3-0 after the first quarter. The Colts punted on their first three possessions, and the Cardinals intercepted Manning on the fourth. The next three possessions? A 20-yard touchdown pass to Wayne. A 10-yard touchdown pass to Clark. A 53-yard touchdown pass to Garcon. "He was on fire," Caldwell said of Manning, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. "He did a great job as usual. We see him do it so often we tend to take it for granted. But we can't take if for granted." Said Wayne, "Once we felt them out, we started making some plays."

Moment to remember: The Colts, after falling behind 3-0 after the first quarter, took a four-point lead by taking advantage of an Arizona turnover. The Colts drove 95 yards on 11 plays, then scored when Manning found Wayne on the right side of the field. Wayne caught the 20-yard pass one-handed, then shifted the ball to his right hand and gained possession, getting his knee on the ground in bounds and crossing the goal line for a touchdown. "You can't draw that up," Manning said. "But he's capable of making those plays. When I threw it, I thought I may have led him a little too much. I thought he did a great job. The catch in itself was outstanding, but he got in bounds. He got his feet in. Those are the kind plays he makes, and we expect him to make. That play really got us going." The drive began when Freddy Keiaho recovered a fumble at the Indianapolis 5.

Note: The Colts' victory came in a circumstance considered one of the most difficult possible in the NFL, with the Colts traveling to the West Coast just six days after playing a night road game in South Florida. "This is one of those wins that certainly was indeed gratifying," Caldwell said, "because of the fact there were a lot of tough conditions and situations we had to deal with in preparation for the game. The guys, the way they came out and played . . . all across the board there was just tremendous effort offensive, defensive and in our kicking game as well."

Quote to note: "We're 3-0, but all it does is assure us we won't go 2-14."--- Caldwell


As Manning saw it, perspective was needed.

Manning shortly after the Colts' convincing, 34-17 over the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth game of the 2009 season stood in front of a gathered crowd of media in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Yes, Manning said, the Colts were unbeaten. Yes, they had played well.

But there was a very, very long way to go.

"I feel it's a good start," Manning said after not only leading the Colts to their franchise-record tying 13th consecutive regular-season victory, but also setting a franchise-record for consecutive 300-yard passing performances.

"It is an excellent first 'quarter.' That's the proper word. To be 4-0 after the first quarter – I think that's what all teams want. It's certainly what we want. There has been change this offseason, but it's still a long season."

Manning, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player three of the previous six seasons, completed 31 of 41 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a passer rating of 107.1.

Manning's fourth consecutive 300-yard game broke the record he had shared with himself (2006) and Unitas (1963). It was the 51st 300-yard game of his career. He also tied Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton for third in the NFL's all-time list with 342 touchdown passes.

Manning completed 14 of 23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in a Week 2 victory over Miami. He had a 133.9 passer rating in that game, and had a 130.5 rating when he completed 24 of 35 passes for 379 yards and four touchdowns with an interception in a Week 3 victory over Arizona.

"He's had some pretty good stretches," Caldwell, who served as the team's quarterbacks coach from 2002-08, said of Manning. "This is certainly a testament to his work ethic and how well he prepares. He certainly doesn't surprise us with the things he does, but I'll also say that we don't take it for granted either. He certainly has performed extremely well throughout the years."

The Colts led 7-0 after the first quarter against Seattle, a lead they extended to 21-3 by halftime with Manning throwing two touchdown passes and Brown running for another.

"I really wanted to get off to a good start," Manning said. "That was important."

The Colts' defense held Seattle to 279 total yards, 109 of which came in the fourth quarter after the Colts led, 28-3. In addition to Mathis' 2.5 sacks, Freeney – who did not practice the week before the game because of a quadriceps injury – had a sack while playing mostly in passing situations and Keiaho also had a sack.

"I thought our offense and defense fed off each other," Manning said. "I'm really hesitant to get into a summary of the year after just four games," Manning said. "It is a good start, and there are some good things, but I do feel like the teeth of our schedule is approaching us starting this week with one of our biggest rivals.

"We have a lot of football left to play and have a lot of tough teams left to play."

Turning point: In a game the Colts led at one point, 34-3, the turning point wasn't so much a play or a series as the entire first half. The Colts outgained the Seahawks 261-132 in the half and had 16 first downs in the first two quarters to nine for the Seahawks. Manning led the Colts to touchdowns on four of their first five possessions. "We played greatness today," Seahawks Head Coach Jim Mora said. "He's one of the finest of all-time."

Moment to remember: After Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare's 38-yard field goal cut into the Colts lead late in the first half, Manning drove Indianapolis 78 yards on nine plays. Rookie wide receiver Austin Collie made a diving catch in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown – the first of his career – and a 21-3 Colts lead three seconds before halftime. "That was pretty good situational football," Manning said. "It's something we've worked on this year. . . . It was a great play for the team and I'm really happy for him catching his first touchdown. It's always kind of exciting to be a part of that and I thought that was really critical to get that last drive before the half." Said Caldwell, "You may not try that with a more inexperienced quarterback, but this guy has been around a long time. He knows how to take care of the ball. He certainly gave us a great opportunity to do well in that situation."

Note: The Colts, in Caldwell's first season since succeeding Dungy in January, were unbeaten after four games for a fifth time in seven seasons. They started 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007. They won the AFC South in each of those seasons, leading the division wire-to-wire each season. "We've got to just try to keep it going," Mathis said.

Quote to note: "All it does is guarantee we won't go 3-13. Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of guarantees in this league. Every game is tough and it's a long season."--- Caldwell

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