Colts DE Dwight Freeney Starts, Gets Sack Despite While Playing Through Ankle Injury
FORT LAUDERDALE – He was gallant.
When it came to discuss Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, that was one of the first words Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell used following the loss in Super Bowl XLIV.
Yes, the Colts lost, and yes, disappointment was deep.
But Freeney, who sustained an ankle injury in the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago and hadn't practiced since, started and played throughout much of the New Orleans Saints' 31-17 victory at Sun Life Stadium, and if that eased none of the pain, it was still notable.
"Obviously, there was a little pain, but I was good enough two days ago that I knew I could go out there and contribute," said Freeney, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who led the Colts with 13.5 sacks during the 2009 regular season.
"At halftime, it was really tough on me just stiffening up. For the most part, it was good enough."
Not that anyone around the Colts was surprised that Freeney played.
Gutsy performances and playing through pain have been the norm for Freeney during an eight-year career that began when the Colts selected in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
He has played with injuries in the past, most recently this season when he played a week after sustaining a quadricep injury that many predicted would keep him out 3-4 weeks.
"I was proud of him," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said. "He stepped up. He has a lot of heart. To be able to come back from that in two weeks speaks a lot about his character."
Said Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett, "Man, just a credit goes to him working hard to get himself prepared, ready to go out there and play."
Freeney, who was the focal point of media attention throughout the week as he tried to rapidly rehab his ankle, got good pressure at times, and had a tackle for loss, a hurry and a quarterback sack. The sack came in the first half, when he bull-rushed Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
He then sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees with one hand, forcing a Saints field goal.
"I thought that he was fine," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said. "He might have been in a little bit of pain, but he was still getting pressure on the quarterback. He got a sack."
Brock said the Colts played essentially their normal rotation on the defensive front.
"I got the same amount of plays like I usually get," Brock said.
Freeney, as he had been all week, remained a story throughout the game. The ankle, he said, bothered him a bit.
"It's hard to put a percentage on it," Freeney said. "Obviously, it wasn't 100 (percent). It was kind of hard. It loosened a little bit in the second half.
"I was kind of confident knowing what I had done prior to (the game) that I was going to be all right. Once I got onto the field and ran around, I knew I was going to be fine.
"I definitely knew I was going to be able to help the team out."
Freeney said he had the ankle re-taped at halftime, then again early in the second half.
"We were just trying to find a way to make adjustments to where it could warm up faster but still have the stability," Freeney said.
Mostly afterward, Freeney said the ankle didn't bother him early as much as the loss. He said the momentum changed in the second half, and for the most basic of reasons. He said the Saints may have changed their game plan against him after the sack, and that by the second half they were blocking him differently than early.
"They just came up with a great game plan in the second half," Freeney said. "I can't say, necessarily, that it surprised us. They executed their game plan in the second half better than we did. . . .
"I don't know if they caught us by surprise. Obviously, they got it."
But despite the effort, Freeney said he will ultimately remember the night more for what wasn't that what he did, and for the different feeling he had leaving the stadium than three years before, when the Colts beat Chicago, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI.
"Obviously, you are overjoyed (when you win)," Freeney said. "Now, it's disappointment."