Ratliff's Interception Return Gives Colts Another Come-From-Behind Victory
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was, Keiwan Ratliff said, without question the highlight moment of his NFL career.
It came during a memorable season for a player who was out of football earlier this season.
And it couldn't have come at a better time for the Colts.
Ratliff, a fifth-year cornerback from the University of Florida, returned a fourth-quarter interception 35 yards for a touchdown that not only gave the Colts a 31-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, it helped the Colts clinch a seventh consecutive postseason appearance.
"That's the biggest play of my career so far," Ratliff said. "It's one thing to do it in practice. It's one thing to do it in preseason. But to do it with the playoffs on the line and on the road it's huge."
The Colts, after trailing 17-7 and 24-14, rallied to tie the game, 24-24, with a 45-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri with 6:28 remaining.
Three plays later, the Jaguars faced 3rd-and-4 on their 28.
Quarterback David Garrard, who completed 28 of 41 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown, had yet to throw an interception in the game. But on the play, he threw to his left, and Ratliff intercepted, weaving past a Jaguars tackler, getting a block from safety Bob Sanders and scoring his first NFL touchdown.
"It was one of those plays where you watch film and you practice things, and you hope for things to work out that way," Ratliff said. "It just so happened to work out that way. I don't think the quarterback ever saw me.
"Any time you catch the ball on an interception you're thinking. 'I've got to get in the end zone somehow."
The play highlighted a clutch fourth quarter for the Colts' defense, one that came in a game in which Indianapolis allowed 409 yards, 28 first downs and 7 of 13 on third downs.
But in the fourth quarter, the defense not only forced the turnover that Ratliff turned into a touchdown, defensive end Raheem Brock also sacked Garrard on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt. Then, on the Jaguars' final possession, defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Garrard on 2nd-and-goal from the 7. The Jaguars did not have time to run another play.
"That's how our defense plays," Brock said. "We have to make plays on defense. We did a good job in the second half regrouping and playing better. They outplayed us in the first half. They executed well. Our offense did a great job keeping us in it. Our special teams stepped up in the second half.
"We were able to finish it off in the fourth quarter."
Said Ratliff, "It was one of those things. We knew we were playing bad. All it took was one or two stops, and we knew 18 (Colts quarterback Peyton Manning) was going to put the ball in the end zone."
EARNING A REST: Because the Colts cannot finish higher than the No. 5 seed, Head Coach Tony Dungy said the victory over Jacksonville likely will mean a similar approach to past seasons in the season finale against Tennessee Sunday.
In past seasons, the Colts have rested some players late in the season when their playoff seeding had been determined.
"We'll rest the guys that need to be rested," Dungy said. "We're going to play to win. We'd love to get 12 wins . . .We are going to try to win this ballgame."
POSTSEASON-BOUND AGAIN: The Colts on Thursday clinched a seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
That means that the Colts' largely homegrown roster has experienced a remarkable run of success. The roster currently contains 45 players who have been with the team their entire careers, and of that group, only six – wide receiver Reggie Wayne, quarterback Peyton Manning, offensive tackle Ryan Diem, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, punter Hunter Smith and long snapper Justin Snow – have played on a Colts team that failed to make the playoffs.
"It's a blessing," said Colts defensive end Raheem Brock, who has qualified for the playoffs in each of his seven seasons. "All my years being here, making the playoffs every year and going out and clinching this playoff appearance down here in Jacksonville – that's a big win and it's a blessing.
"I'm just going to enjoy this weekend."
AN NFL RECORD: The Colts' victory Thursday secured an NFL-record 10th consecutive playoff appearance for a team with Dungy as its head coach.
Dungy coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to three consecutive playoff appearances from 1999-2001 before joining the Colts in 2002.
Former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Tom Landry had held the record with nine consecutive postseason appearances.
"That's quite unbelievable," Dungy said. "It means you've been around a lot of good people – good administrators, good assistant coaches, good players. I've been very, very blessed that way. I think the Lord has smiled on me in my career. I'm proud of that, but I'm really proud of seven in a row here, and nine out of 10 for this group.
"I think it says a lot for the team (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim (Irsay) and (Colts President) Bill (Polian) has put together."
SANDERS, ADDAI ACTIVE: The Colts got two Pro Bowl selections back in the lineup Thursday, but they were without another.
Safety Bob Sanders and running back Joseph Addai, each of whom made the Pro Bowl last season, were active against Jacksonville Thursday night. Sanders played, but the Colts opted to hold Addai out.
Eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison was declared inactive with a hamstring injury.
The Colts' inactives Sunday were:
Harrison, safety Jamie Silva, running back Najeh Daven, middle linebacker Gary Brackett, linebacker Rufus Alexander, defensive tackle Eric Foster, defensive end Marcus Howard and defensive end Curtis Johnson.
GONZALEZ, RHODES START: Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez started in place of Harrison, with Dominic Rhodes starting at running back.
Antonio Johnson started for Foster at defensive tackle and Buster Davis started a third consecutive game in place of Brackett.
BULLITT INJURED: Colts safety Melvin Bullitt sustained a hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
HOW THEY SCORED
COLTS 00 07 07 17 – 31
JAGUARS 07 10 07 00 – 24
JAGUARS 7, COLTS 0
Dennis Northcutt 28 pass from David Garrard (Josh Scobee kick), 10:59 remaining first quarter. Drive: Eight pays, 62 yards, 4:01. Key play: Marcedes Lewis 12 pass from Garrard on 1st-and-10 from 50.
JAGUARS 14, COLTS 0
Garr ard 2 run (Scobee kick), 11:37 remaining second quarter. Drive: 17 plays, 93 yards, 9:35. Key play: Garrard 2 run on 4th-and-1 from Jaguars 31.
JAGUARS 14, COLTS 7
Reggie Wayne 41 pass from Peyton Manning (Adam Vinatieri kick), 8:39 remaining second quarter. Drive: Five plays, 63 yards, 2:58. Key play: Defensive 12 on field penalty turns 3rd-and-1 into 1st-and-10 at Jaguars 38.
JAGUARS 17, COLTS 7
Scobee 44 FG, :01 remaining second quarter. Drive: Eight plays, 54 yards, 1:02. Key play: Mike Walker 18 pass from Garrard on 3rd-and-1 from Colts 44.
JAGUARS 17, COLTS 14
Dominic Rhodes 9 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 10:26 remaining third quarter. Drive: Nine plays, 75 yards, 4:34. Key play: Dallas Clark 21 pass from Manning on 2nd-and-7 from Jaguars 44.
JAGUARS 24, COLTS 14
Montell Owens 2 run (Scobee kick), 2:28 remaining third quarter. Drive: 14 plays, 76 yards, 7:58. Key play: Maurice Jones-Drew 9 pass from Garrard on 3rd-and-8 from 50.
JAGUARS 24, COLTS 21
Clark 1 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 12:31 remaining fourth quarter. Drive: 11 plays, 81 yards, 4:57. Key play: Wayne 15 pass from Manning on 3rd-and-8 Jaguars 46.
COLTS 24, JAGUARS 24
Vinatieri 45 FG, 6:28 remaining. Drive: 10 plays, 52 yards, 4:55. Key play: Rhodes 7 run on 3rd-and-2 from Jaguars 43.
COLTS 31, JAGUARS 24
Keiwan Ratliff 35 interception return (Vinatieri kick), 4:48 remaining fourth quarter.