Offense Scores Early, Defense Steps Up Late in Victory
INDIANAPOLIS – History was made Sunday, thanks to two distinctively different halves that powered the Colts to victory.
With the offense exploding in the first half, and a stingy defense taking over in the second, the Colts clinched homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with their 28-16 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first 23 minutes, putting the Colts up 21-0 early.
But the offense soon hit hard times and the Broncos came charging. Luckily for the Colts, the team's defense was there to pick up right where the offense left off.
"We got off to a fast start like we wanted to," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Guys came out and played extremely well in the first half. Obviously, (Denver) is a real good football team and they were able to stall us quite a bit in the second."
Denver forced the Colts to turn the ball over three times Sunday, but Indy's defense did not give up a single touchdown off the turnovers. In fact, the Colts remain the NFL's only team to not allow a touchdown following a turnover this season, surrendering just nine field goals on 18 turnovers.
"I'm not certain I've seen a better defensive effort than the one our guys put forth today," Caldwell said.
In all, the defense finished with three sacks, one interception, five tackles for a loss and three fourth-down stops – but it was the team's ability to minimize harm off turnovers that was most vital to its success Sunday.
Two of Indianapolis' three turnovers gave Denver the ball inside Colts territory, but only one change of possession resulted in a Broncos score, a 28-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
"I think they have great pride and resolve, and it's been something that we made note of a few weeks back," Caldwell said of the defense stepping up after turnovers. "Ever since then, they've been trying to keep the streak going."
Caldwell credited defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and the rest of his staff for calling the right plays and having his players in the right position to make plays.
"(They) are doing a great job of getting those guys ready," he said. "Oftentimes when turnovers occur, teams have letdowns and the opposition goes in for scores. But when you have great morale, the kinds of things we are getting accomplished happen for you. And I do think we have great morale on our defense."
Manning – who completed 20 of 42 passes for 220 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions – said it is a good feeling for a quarterback when he knows a defense has his back.
"That's huge," Manning said. "You certainly don't like to put them in that situation or test them. We really had a good plan to try and protect the ball. I'm not sure on any of those (interceptions) what we really could have done differently, (with) tipped balls and a few freak-type plays. But the defense goes out and does their job, and that's obviously very critical."
Despite the three turnovers, Manning had several instances of brilliance. Manning led four touchdown drives, but the most important came in the fourth quarter as the offense milked more than seven minutes off the clock during a 14-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark.
"At the end, when we needed it most, the offense came up with a 14-play drive, and that was key," Caldwell said.
The score was one of Clark's three touchdowns on the day, a career-high. Clark finished with five catches for 43 yards, giving him 82 receptions for the season, also a career high and a franchise record.
When asked if Clark is particularly dangerous in the red zone, Manning replied, "I got to believe (our opponents) would tell you that.
"We look for those kind of match-ups, and Dallas is that kind of a guy. He had (Denver cornerback) Ty Law covering him all day in certain situations, and that tells you what they think about him."
With the offense scoring four touchdowns, the defense was able to play aggressively. In addition to Tim Jennings' interception, the unit also stopped Denver three times on fourth-down, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Opponents have attempted 17 fourth downs against the Colts this season, but Indy has allowed its opponents to move the chains only five times – and none on Sunday.
"They keep trying, but we never back down," linebacker Clint Session said. "We love that."
Caldwell said the defense has benefitted from different players answering the call every week.
"The way they stick together, the way they step up," Caldwell said. "There are just so many guys that have done a tremendous job of stepping in and filling the gaps for one another."
• The Colts now face the tall task of the quick turnaround. Indianapolis resumes action Thursday when they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars for the second time this season.
• Once again, the Colts defense did not surrender a single point in the third quarter, a testament to the team's ability to make defensive adjustments at the half. Through 13 games this season, Indianapolis has given up just 17 points in the third quarter.
• Running back Joseph Addai had another productive game, rushing 10 times in the first half for 50 yards. Addai finished the game with 16 carries for 67 yards and a 4.2 per-carry average, while he also added five catches for 49 yards. "Joe had a very good day," Caldwell said. "Very effective runs, ran tough, had some key plays and conversions, and he also caught the ball well."
• Manning (49,533) surpassed Warren Moon (49,325) for fourth-most passing yards in NFL history, while recording his 20th career 4 -touchdown game, third-most in NFL history.