Colts Remain Unbeaten in Second Quarter of 2009 Regular Season
INDIANAPOLIS – Remaining unbeaten for even two or three games in the NFL isn't exactly easy.
Doing it into October? And then into November?
It's rare enough to be newsworthy, and there's almost no way it will be done in one-sided, dominant fashion. At least not for very long. And although the Colts had as much experience being unbeaten deep into seasons as any team in the NFL over the last decade, that remained true for the team in 2009.
After winning their first four games of the season – including the last two in relatively one-sided fashion – the Colts also went through the second four games of the 2009 regular season without losing, winning the first two of those games by equally one-sided margins.
Then, things started to get tougher. A lot tougher.
In two games that set the tone for a dramatic, memorable second half of the season, the Colts began the month of November with a pair of come-from-behind victories to move to 8-0 for the third time in five seasons.
The Colts also began 13-0 in 2005 and 9-0 in 2006.
Throughout late October and early November, the Colts remained hot, and quarterback Peyton Manning – the Associated Press Most Valuable Player in 2008 – continued to push toward a fourth such honor. The Colts also continued to make clutch plays late, winning games in a variety of ways.
As imantly, they continued to push toward a division title.
The Colts, a playoff team from 2002-08, won five consecutive AFC South titles from 2003-07, making the playoffs as a wild-card team in 2008. But their first goal of each season is to win the division, and while they hardly had clinched that at the midway point of 2009, they were getting close.
After trailing the division by three and a half games at the end of October in 2008, the Colts were in the opposite situation midway through 2009.
They rallied to beat the Houston Texans in the second game of November in 2009. That victory, which came at Lucas Oil Stadium, moved the Colts three-and-half games ahead in the AFC South with eight games remaining.
It also turned the attention of observers to several other significant streaks.
The Colts at mid-season remained one of two unbeaten teams in the NFL, with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC being the other. The Colts also at that point had won their last 17 regular-season games dating to the previous season, the longest such streak in franchise history.
The NFL record for consecutive victories at the time was 21, set by New England from 2006-08.
And despite the four one-sided victories, the Colts also were setting a tone of being able to win close games. While they beat Tennessee, Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle by double digits, their four other victories were by a combined 13 points.
The Colts were also 3-0 in the division entering the second half of the season.
"That's the mark of a great football team," Colts center Jeff Saturday said following a game eight victory over Houston. "We've won eight games so far and we're ahead in our division, which was our main focus and goal. It was big to get a win against these guys.
"To play all three of our division opponents and win the first three is extremely important to us. Hopefully, that will give us a little separation."
A look at the four games in the second quarter of the 2009 season:
Game 5: INDIANAPOLIS 31, TENNESSEE TITANS 9
The milestones mattered not a bit. Not to Manning, and not to anyone around the Colts.
So, although Manning extended a franchise record and moved closer to an NFL record in the fifth game of the 2009 season, he said after a 31-9 victory over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., neither mattered. What mattered was this:
The Colts were 5-0. And they were 3-0 on the road.
They also were 2-0 and in first place in the AFC South.
A fifth consecutive 300-yard game to start the season, a franchise record? The fact that he was one game from tying the NFL record for consecutive 300-yard games to start the season?
No matter, Manning said.
"This is a big win for us on the road," Manning said after completing 36 of 44 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the victory over Tennessee, which won the AFC South in 2008. "That's all I'm thinking about, was getting the win."
The victory gave the Colts a franchise-record 14th consecutive regular-season victory, and their seven consecutive road victories were also a franchise record. It was the fifth time in the last seven seasons the Colts had won their first five games.
They started 5-0 in 2003, 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007.
Against the Titans, they maintained their early-season winning streak with a third consecutive dominant performance and without cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) and Marlin Jackson (knee), as well as safety Bob Sanders (knee), left tackle Charlie Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee).
The Colts, who split with Tennessee in 2006, 2007 and 2008, lost to the Titans in Nashville, 31-21, in 2008, but in the 2009 meeting in Nashville, they inched ahead throughout the first half.
"Overall, we were very, very efficient," Caldwell said.
Manning registered his fourth consecutive game with a passer rating of more than 100 and with four different receivers finishing with more than 50 yards receiving.
The Colts took control in the first half, taking an early 7-0 lead, then extending it to double digits by halftime despite a pair of first-half turnovers. It was an early turnover that set up the Colts' first touchdown.
First, Colts safety Antoine Bethea hit Titans tight end Alge Crumpler forcing a fumble that defensive end Keyunta Dawson recovered at the Titans 23. Five plays later, Manning passed three yards to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who caught the ball just over the goal line near the right sideline for a 7-0 lead.
The Titans cut it to 7-6 with field goals of 49 and 43 yards by Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas, with each field goal set up by a Colts turnover – the first a muffed punt by cornerback Tim Jennings and the second an interception of Manning by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck.
The Colts' defense held the Titans without a first down after each turnover and Indianapolis used the second quarter to take control of the game's momentum.
Early in the period, Manning drove the Colts 81 yards on 12 plays, with fourth-year running back Joseph Addai scoring on a 1-yard run to push the Indianapolis lead to 14-6.
A 46-yard field goal by Bironas cut the Colts' lead to five, but Manning capped the half with a 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Austin Collie with 17 seconds remaining before halftime. Indianapolis then pushed the lead to 28-9 with a 6-yard, play-action touchdown pass from Manning to Collie early in the third quarter.
"We've kind of widened the gap, but nothing's been clinched yet, so we've got a long way to go," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "We've got a lot of battles ahead of us."
Turning point: The Colts controlled much of the first half, but after a 46-yard field goal by Bironas cut the lead to five late in the second quarter, Manning – as he had done on several occasions already in 2009 – moved the Colts for a critical touchdown late in the first half. Taking possession with :57 remaining in the second quarter, the Colts moved 93 yards in six plays, a drive assisted by two roughing-the-passer penalties. Manning capped the drive with a 39-yard, catch-and-run, tackle-breaking touchdown pass to Collie with 17 seconds remaining before halftime. "We had a double post called," Collie said. They had been staying in a base defense all night with no nickel. We thought we could take advantage of that and we did." Collie beat Bulluck down the middle on the play. "It's tough for a linebacker to cover Collie down the middle," Manning said.
Moment to remember: Against the Titans, some of the Colts' most memorable moments came whenever Titans running back Chris Johnson touched the ball. Johnson entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher and finished the season with more than 2,000 yards rushing, but in Nashville that night, the Colts held him to 34 yards on nine carries. "Our front four is really stepping up their game," Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "They were really aggressive against the run today. Guys played the run well." It was the third consecutive game in which the Colts had held their opponent under 100 yards rushing. Indianapolis held Arizona to 24 yards rushing in Week 3, then held Seattle to 49 yards in a 34-17 Week 4 victory. "We made them one- dimensional, like we did the teams before," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "It's working out pretty good right now."
Note: The victory was the Colts' third prime-time road victory in as many games over a team that made the postseason the previous season. Indianapolis beat 2008 AFC East Champion Miami, 27-23, in Miami in Week 2, then beat defending NFC Champion Arizona, 31-10, in Arizona in Week 3. The Titans led the AFC South from start to finish in 2008. With the victory, Indianapolis – the AFC South Champion from 2003-07 and a playoff team from 2002-08 – not only moved five games ahead of the defending South champion Titans (0-5), they also took a three-game lead on the two teams tied for second in the division, Jacksonville (2-3) and Houston (2-3). "That's what our goal was, to go into the bye week 5-0," Colts cornerback Tim Jennings said.
Quote to note: "We were extremely pleased with the way we played. That's a good football team, even though a lot of people were saying, 'Well, they were 0-4 before our game.' They still have weapons. They still have firepower. They're not a much different team than what they were last year from a personnel standpoint. To come here, to a place where it's so tough to play, in a division game to get a division victory the way we got it – it's really good."--- Caldwell
Game 6: INDIANAPOLIS 42, ST. LOUIS RAMS 6
As it turned out, Manning needn't have worried after all.
Manning, concerned about maintaining momentum after a mid-October bye, threw three touchdowns, and the Colts' defense did not allow a touchdown for a second consecutive game. As a result, the unbeaten, AFC South-leading Colts pulled steadily away from the St. Louis Rams for a 42-6 victory in front of 60,108 at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.
A week off? An opponent with a less-than-stellar record?
A fourth road game in six weeks?
"I've never really looked at a team's record," Manning said afterward. "But on the road it's nice to come out to a good start and get a lead and hopefully dictate. The team that wins is the team that usually ends up dictating most of the game."
The Colts (6-0) scored on their first two possessions, with Manning throwing a touchdown pass on each possession, and the Rams (0-7) never got closer than 11 points after the first quarter.
The victory was the Colts' fourth in succession by 17 or more points.
"It was pretty complete today," Caldwell said.
The victory left the Colts as one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL. The Denver Broncos (6-0) and New Orleans Saints (5-0) were the others.
At that point, the Colts had won their last 15 regular-season games dating to the previous season, the longest streak in franchise history. The Colts also became one of 10 teams in NFL history to win 15 consecutive regular-season games. New England won 21 consecutive games from 2006-08.
The victory also kept Indianapolis two and a half games ahead of the Houston Texans (4-3) in the AFC South.
The Colts, who entered the game as the No. 3-ranked offense in the NFL, outgained the Rams, 391-272, and had 24 first downs to 14 for the Rams.
They also rushed for a season-high 156 yards, with Addai running for 64 yards on 20 carries, rookie Donald Brown rushing twice for 58 yards and second-year veteran Chad Simpson rushing three times for 35 yards. Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and Collie caught touchdown passes from Manning, and Addai and Simpson each rushed for touchdowns.
"Our offense clicked pretty well for the most part," Caldwell said.
The Colts' defense at that point had not allowed a touchdown since allowing two in the fourth quarter against Seattle. They had not allowed a touchdown in the first half – or one with less than an 18-point lead – since Week 2.
"We're playing really well together," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, who had his team-leading seventh sack in the second quarter, said. "It's like a functioning wave. We're playing off each other. . . . It's going to be tough to beat us. We are the hunters. We go out and try to establish that from the first snap. There is no let off. We've been here before."
Manning threw first-quarter touchdown passes to Wayne (six yards) and Clark (27 yards). Coming before and after a Rams field goal, the touchdowns gave the Colts an early 14-3 lead.
Manning then directed an eight-play 41-yard drive late in the first half. Addai ended the drive with a six-yard touchdown run that was set up by a block by guard Mike Pollak.
Brown's second field goal, a 45-yarder, cut the Colts' lead to 15, but rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey's interception return for a touchdown pushed it to 22. Manning threw eight yards to Collie to make it 35-6 with 3:42 remaining and a little more than a minute later, Simpson's 31-yard run made it 42-6.
"Anytime you get a win in this league, it's big," Caldwell said. "Our guys have certainly done a great job handling these road games. They've been able to adjust quite well."
Turning point: The Colts took control early and were never challenged. First, Manning completed a six-yard touchdown pass to Wayne that capped a 12-play, 90-yard drive on the game's first possession. After Rams kicker Josh Brown converted a 30-yard field goal on the Rams' first possession to make it 7-3, Manning led the Colts on a three-play, 78-yard drive on the ensuing possession. Manning capped that drive with a 27-yard pass to Clark. "It was just a corner route. The safety was on the hash. Once he moves to the middle of the field, that brings you back to Dallas Clark. I just tired to throw it up high and give us a chance. Dallas has made that catch before. I'm not saying it's routine, but he can spoil you."
Moment to remember: The Colts sacked Rams quarterback Marc Bulger three times and intercepted him twice, with Lacey's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown giving the Colts a 28-6 lead with one minute remaining in the third quarter. "It's the best feeling you can accomplish as a corner," Lacey said. "I definitely think that took a little wind out of their chest."
Note: Manning, who entered the game as the AFC's top-rated passer, completed 23 of 34 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He did not throw for more than 300 yards for the first time in the season, but finished the game with a passer rating of 116.7. It was his fifth consecutive game with a passer rating of more than 100, and at that point, he had thrown for at least two touchdowns in five consecutive games.
Quote to note: "Coming off a bye week, you never know how guys are going to respond or react. We came out with a purpose and that shows you the leadership on this team. We have a lot of guys who have been around the block a few times. The younger guys are picking it up quick."---Clark
Game 7: INDIANAPOLIS 18, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14
Dallas Clark had a feeling it might go like this.
The rest of the Colts agreed with their seventh-year tight end – that throughout the week leading to their seventh game of the season, there was something about the San Francisco 49ers on film that whatever the venue made a fifth consecutive one-sided victory unlikely.
They were right.
Manning did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in the 2009 season. Afterward, he called the day a "grinder." But he said what was important wasn't appearance, but that the AFC South-leading Colts (7-0) found a way to stay unbeaten with an 18-14 victory over the 49ers (3-4) in front of 66,229 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"It was one of those days," said Manning, who completed 31 of 48 passes for 347 yards – his sixth 300-plus-yard game in seven games of the season – and no touchdowns with no interceptions.
"We kind of call it a grinder, where you keep kind of grinding it out, and fortunately our defense kept them from scoring a lot. We were able to keep the game close. . . .
"There wasn't a whole lot of offensive rhythm out there. It was just kind of a grind."
The Colts, who played four of the first six games on the road and who last played at home on the first week of October, had entered the game having won four consecutive games by double-digits.
Against San Francisco, they never led by more than four and didn't lead until the fourth quarter.
The Colts, who trailed at halftime for the first time in the 2009 season, cut a 14-9 halftime deficit to 14-12 after the third period. They took their first lead seven seconds into the final quarter, with Addai throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Wayne.
A two-point conversion pass failed, and the closest the 49ers came to scoring the rest of the game was on the ensuing series. The 49ers drove to the Indianapolis 35, but defensive end Robert Mathis sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for an eight-yard loss that took San Francisco out of field-goal range.
The 49ers failed to move past their 30 on their final possession.
"Our defense sort of rose to the occasion when we needed it most," said Caldwell, who became the first first-year head coach in NFL history to start a season 7-0.
Caldwell said being 7-0 meant little personally, and that the "most important thing for us is the next game," adding of the victory over the 49ers, "It was a tough battle."
"They had a good plan against us," Caldwell said. "It was a tight, tough game, but you find a way to win it. Our guys hung in there, came through and made some big plays. They certainly performed well down the stretch."
The Colts trailed 14-9 at halftime, the first time since Week 2 they trailed after two quarters – and the first time since that week's victory over Miami they allowed a first-half touchdown.
The Colts, despite playing solid defensively much of the first half, allowed two long touchdown drives, with the first coming on the second San Francisco drive of the game. On 2nd-and-4 from the 49ers 36, running back Frank Gore took a handoff and broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Sixty-four yards later, San Francisco led, 7-0.
With 3:16 remaining in the quarter, the Colts cut the lead to four with a 38-yard field goal by veteran kicker Matt Stover. Stover cut the lead to one with a 33-yard field goal, then with :33 remaining in the half, tight end Vernon Davis' eight-yard touchdown reception from Smith capped an 89-yard drive and made it 14-6.
Manning drove the Colts 48 yards for a third field goal by Stover with :01 remaining in the half, and Indianapolis added a fourth field goal by Stover on the first drive of the third quarter.
That made it 14-12, 49ers. The Colts re-gained possession at the 49ers 42, on their next possession, but failed to pick up a first down. Manning called that disappointing, but on the ensuing series, they drove from their 30 to the 49ers 22 as the third quarter expired to set up Addai's game-winning touchdown pass.
"San Francisco did a good job on defense, and obviously we weren't as sharp as we have been at times," Manning said. "There are definitely some areas we can improve on, but I thought we hung in there, kept fighting and made a couple of third-down conversions where we needed to and scored enough points to win."
Turning point: Trailing 14-12, the Colts drove from their 30 to the 49ers 22 as the third quarter expired. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Addai took a handoff from Manning, started left and did what Manning later said was a "good job of selling the run." Addai then passed to Wayne in the left corner of the end zone. Addai threw it a bit long but Wayne caught the ball in the end zone for the winning points. "That was one we have been working on for a long time," Caldwell said. "The situation was right and (Addai) did a nice job of throwing it and Reggie did a great job of catching it." Said Wayne, "It just seemed like it was up there forever. Plus, (Addai's) a lefthander, so the ball was spinning the opposite way … That's something we've been practicing for years, but we've never actually had a chance to do it, but it came to light today."
Moment to remember: Freeney waited a while, but late in the fourth quarter, when he sacked Smith, he extended his streak of consecutive games with a sack to eight. "It's kind of funny," he said afterward. "I got one. I picked one up. Like I said, whenever you're a defensive lineman and you can get a sack, it's kind of like that treasure at the end of the rainbow type of deal. And when we win the game, it is just amazing."
Note: The Colts extended their franchise-record regular-season winning streak to 16 games, becoming the eighth team in NFL history with a streak that long. New England at the time held the record with 21 consecutive victories from 2006-08. The Colts also extended their NFL-record streak of winning at least seven consecutive games in six consecutive seasons. They had done so each season since 2004. They started 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007, winning the AFC South title in each of those seasons.
Quote to note: "We've had some good ones here lately where we'd kind of get control of it early. This definitely wasn't one of those cases. We kind of had a feeling coming into it. You had a feel that this was a team that keeps it close. Their defense gives them chances for their offense to win it at the end. . . . We were able to kind of play with them. It was a grind. It took all four quarters to finally get it going."--- Clark
Game 8: INDIANAPOLIS 20, HOUSTON TEXANS 17
The Colts' eighth victory to start the season wasn't secure until the latest of possible moments.
Most Colts players, in fact, were preparing for overtime.
Then, Texans' kicker Kris Brown's 42-yard final-play field goal missed. And suddenly, the unbeaten, AFC South-leading Colts (8-0) had their eighth consecutive victory to start the season – a wild 20-17 victory over AFC South rival Houston (5-4) in front of 66,033 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"I was pretty much assuming we were going to overtime," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said after the Colts rallied from a 17-13 fourth-quarter deficit for their third division victory in as many games. "I thought it was for sure."
Brown's miss capped a wild fourth quarter, a quarter that capped a memorable day.
Manning, who completed 34 of 50 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown with an interception, threw 40 passes in an up-tempo first half. He threw for just 76 yards in the second half, but after Houston rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit, Manning led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive for the game's winning points.
A two-yard touchdown run by Addai put the Colts ahead, 20-17, with 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, and an interception by Session ended the ensuing possession for the Texans, who scored touchdowns on their first two second-half drives.
Session's interception gave the Colts possession at their 40 with 2:13 remaining, but the Texans forced a punt and took possession at their 15.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown in the second half, drove the Texans to the Indianapolis 24, spiking the ball to stop the clock there after completing seven of eight "non-spike" passes on the drive.
Brown, who kicked a 56-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, then pulled the potential game-tying kick wide left, securing Houston's eighth loss in as many trips to Indianapolis.
The game didn't start as if dramatics would be necessary.
Indianapolis moved efficiently on its first drive before punting, and after a sack by Freeney – his ninth of the season – helped stop the first Houston drive, the Colts took a 7-0 lead with a 12-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard pass from Manning to Addai.
The Colts controlled momentum the rest of the quarter, holding the Texans to 15 first-quarter yards and no first downs, and late in the quarter, rookie Jerraud Powers intercepted a pass intended for Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson.
The Colts then drove 41 yards for Stover's first field goal, a 22-yarder.
The pace slowed in the second quarter, with the Colts pushing the lead to 13-0 on a 37-yard field goal by Stover with 12:50 remaining in the half.
"I'm not sure what happened," Saturday said. "I just know drives would stall – for some reason. We have to go back and look at it and see what we can improve on."
Houston, held without a first down until 7:13 remained in the second quarter, drove 88 yards from its
11 to the Colts 1, but lost possession on a strange play just before the two-minute warning.
On 1st-and-10 from the Colts 10, Schaub passed to running back Ryan Moats, who carried to the 1. As he was tackled, the ball squeezed out and landed inches in bounds. Powers, who had been out of bounds, recovered, and after a review, officials ruled because Powers did not establish position in bounds and recovered the ball in the end zone that the play was a touchback. Colts ball.
"That was huge," Manning said.
Texans safety Bernard Pollard intercepted Manning at the Texans 14, after which Houston drove for Brown's 56-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The Texans then took the second-half kickoff and pulled to within three after Schaub passed for a 1-yard touchdown to Moats, capping an 86-yard drive that consumed 6:29. Houston then took the lead early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard run by Steve Slaton capping a play drive that consumed the final 6:39 of the third quarter. That set the stage for Addai's go-ahead run and the ensuing late-game dramatics, not to mention a critical division victory.
"It's real big," Caldwell said. "For us to have an opportunity to play an outstanding team, first of all – obviously they're well prepared and did a great job matching up with us – to get a win at home against a team that has been extremely hot – this was huge for us.
"It's still one game, but it's almost like it counts as double bonus when you get it at home in this situation."
Turning point: This was the rare game where the turning point truly didn't come until the game's final play. The Colts dominated early, and the Texans scored two second-half touchdowns to control play enough in the second half that they had two chances in the final six minutes to tie or take the lead. Session's interception stopped one drive, and when the Colts couldn't drain the clock, the outcome was very much in doubt until Brown's kick sailed wide. "A couple of plays here and there and they're celebrating in the locker room," Clark said.
Moment to remember: For the Colts, it was the entire first quarter – a period in which they set a fast pace that produced big-time numbers but in which they couldn't quite put the Texans away. The Colts ran 31 plays in the period, a total that included 25 passes by Manning and produced 201 total yards. "That was obviously by design," Caldwell said. "We wanted to try to be press the issue and be as aggressive as we possibly could early on and see if we could set a pace. Sometimes, if you go fast enough and quickly enough you can slow down a few pass rushers, and they have some good ones."
Note: Clark had a career season, and one of the first signs that that might be the case came in the mid-November victory over the Texans. With the Texans often covering Clark with a linebacker, Manning threw to Clark early and often. By the time the first quarter ended, Clark had eight catches for 62 yards. By game's end, he had a career-high 14 catches for 119 yards, with the reception total tying former wide receiver Marvin Harrison's franchise-record for most receptions in a game. "That's just how it happens sometimes," Caldwell said. "Dallas had a heck of a day…he has been playing well all year, and he had some big catches against tough coverage today." Said Clark, "It was kind of one of those things where we were trying to take advantage of what is given to us. Even with (me) getting those early catches, they still didn't adjust or change what they were doing, so we were just going to try and keep attacking."
Quote to note: "Huge win. Great effort. Great job kind of hanging in there. Obviously, everything wasn't perfect, but great job of just kind of fighting and (we) came up with the big win. Houston played well and they have an excellent team. (We were) fortunate to win, and certainly, always want to win those division games, especially the ones at home. We'll definitely take it."--- Manning