**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Divisional Round Showdown Against the Ravens
Indianapolis Colts (14-2) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)
Saturday, January 16, 2010 (8:15 p.m. EST)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
The players, the coaches, the fans – this is what they all have been waiting for.
On Saturday, the Colts officially begin their "second season" when they host the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.
After finishing with a 14-2 record in the regular season, the Colts earned a playoff berth for the 10th time in 11 years, including an eighth consecutive appearance, the NFL's longest current streak.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the team is eager to begin post-season play and build off what already has been a very successful year.
"We've been very resourceful," Caldwell said. "We've won in a number of different ways. We've won coming from behind; we've won with a lead. Our defense has stopped people on the last drive and our offense has scored points to win games in the last 13 seconds. All around, we've just found different ways to win, and I think that's encouraging because that's what you need."
Most importantly, the Colts coach said his team has learned how to finish over the course of the regular season, which included an NFL-record 23-game winning streak and a league-record seven fourth-quarter comebacks.
But despite the accolades collected and milestones broken, Caldwell said none of that would matter going forward, because the regular season is a thing of the past, and the Colts are now fully immersed in playoff mode.
Following a first-round bye, the Colts take on the Ravens at 8:15 p.m. this Saturday for the second time this season. On November 22, Indianapolis traveled to Baltimore and emerged with a 17-15 victory after a hard-fought battle with their AFC rival.
Colts kicker Matt Stover, who played for Baltimore from 1991-2008, kicked a 25-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter that ultimately proved to be the game-winning points.
The Colts, who own an 8-2 advantage all-time over the Ravens, also beat Baltimore in the Divisional Round two years ago, registering a 15-6 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
But both sides agree what happened in the past, including what happened seven weeks ago, means very little this weekend.
"We've been in this situation before, and we know that a bye week isn't a guarantee for anything," tight end Dallas Clark said. "Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way a few years ago. But I think we had a good week of preparation and are ready to go out and give everything we have."
When Jim Caldwell says you can throw the past out the window, he really means it.
"Those records don't matter," he said. "The regular season doesn't matter. What does matter is what happens from here on, and we know that we're facing a real solid team."
Although the Colts only learned last week that Baltimore would be their Divisional Round opponent, the team has been preparing for the post-season for nearly a month, focusing on the health of its players and strategizing with the playoffs in mind.
Thanks to that plan, Caldwell said the team is now close to firing on all cylinders.
"Our three practices last week were as fine as I think we've had for this time of the year," he said. "The last two practices have been excellent. I think from a physical standpoint we're in great shape. I think from a mental standpoint our guys are well prepared. Our guys will be ready to go."
Having not played a meaningful game in weeks, the Colts hope to waste no time getting back into the swing of things on Saturday.
Said wide receiver Reggie Wayne, "Basically, the type of game (Baltimore) had against New England, how they started off fast, that's kind of what we need to do. We need to play fast and play physical because they are a physical bunch, and we're going to have to match their intensity."
Whether they start on offense or defense, Caldwell agreed with his Pro Bowl receiver that the Colts would love to get off to a quick start at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend.
"I think that's one of the things you always sort of gear up for," he said. "You like to be able to get off to a fast start, obviously, in all phases, and particularly in the playoffs. So we are working toward that end."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RAVENS
The Ravens used an impressive performance last weekend to jump out to a 24-point lead in the first quarter against New England and defeat the Patriots, 33-14.
"Certainly, we were very impressed with the way the Ravens played," Caldwell said. "They played tough, they were sound, they had a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and they really controlled the line of scrimmage."
When looking at film of the Ravens, Caldwell said he does not necessarily see a different team than the one the Colts faced this past November, but he does see a better one.
"I think they're running the ball better than they ever have," Caldwell said of the Ravens, who rushed 52 times last week for 234 yards. "I think their defense is certainly playing that smothering style that they typically do, and playing it at even a higher level. And I think their kicking game is good and solid."
Like the Colts, Caldwell said the Ravens have improved every week.
"I think in both cases you're going to find both teams have made tremendous strides since seven weeks ago when we played," he said.
At their essence, the Ravens are a team with running on the mind. Baltimore owns the fifth-best rushing attack in the league and the fifth-best defense at stopping the run.
The Ravens' offense centers on running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, the dangerous two-pronged attack that combined for 1,883 yards on the ground this season.
Rice finished with 135 all-purpose yards against the Colts earlier in the season, and was described by Caldwell as a player with the "entire package," explaining the back has a blend of speed and power rarely seen.
As for McGahee, Caldwell said the veteran bruiser is a strong runner with "fine vision."
"You couple those two backs with a very talented offensive line, they load up on you, they do a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage, they create holes in your scheme, and those backs are skilled enough to find it and do some damage," he said.
Facing a rushing attack as strong as Baltimore's is a challenge for everyone on the defense, including the secondary, cornerback Kelvin Hayden said.
With a capable passing game led by quarterback Joe Flacco and a strong rushing attack which has been well-documented, Hayden said the Colts defensive backs will have their hands full on Saturday.
"We just want to be disciplined in the passing game and tackle in the run game," he said. "We have to stay focused as a secondary and know they are going to run the ball. We don't want to fall asleep and give up a big play or give up a long drive due to our (secondary) thinking more run than pass."
On defense, the Ravens are best known for linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, two of the league's premier players and two of the best at their respective positions.
But Baltimore now has the services of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who missed the November game against Indianapolis and had three tackles and a crucial sack-fumble last weekend at New England.
"He's an outstanding player," Manning said. "He's a smart player, and I think he's an excellent pass rusher, but he's athletic enough that they drop him back in coverage and have him cover tight ends and running backs. Much like us when one of our top players doesn't play, I think you're always better when you have your top veteran players. They are certainly a better team with him out on the field."
The Colts announced the game status/injury report on Friday with the following players listed as probable for Saturday's game: DEs-Ervin Baldwin (groin), Raheem Brock (hip), Keyunta Dawson (knee), Dwight Freeney (foot) and Robert Mathis (shoulder), LBs-Gary Brackett (quad) and Clint Session (knee), DBs-Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), Aaron Francisco (quad), Tim Jennings (knee) and Jerraud Powers (hamstring), OTs-Ryan Diem (elbow), Charlie Johnson (foot) and Tony Ugoh (knee), WRs-Pierre Garcon (hand) and Reggie Wayne (knee), DTs-Antonio Johnson (shoulder) and Dan Muir (shoulder), QB-Curtis Painter (ankle), OG-Jamey Richard (shoulder), TE-Gijon Robinson (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right hip).
• "Hopefully, I block him (laughs). There is a reason he's a perennial Pro Bowler, All-Pro. His reputation and resume speaks for themselves. I don't foresee him not playing on Saturday night. We'll have to block him up and fight a good fight with these guys. We've had some serious battles, and I respect the heck out of the type of team they have. Those guys play hard, and I expect us to have to put out a great effort to beat them." – Colts center Jeff Saturday on what he hopes to do against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
• "He'll be on our sideline for sure. I don't know if he's coming or not. He's got recruiting going on right now. He loves the Colts. I guess I say that – hopefully he'll be our sideline. He better be, right? But I don't know, I think he would. He loves the Colts. Every time I walk in the new stadium, and the old place, to see his name up in there in the Ring of Honor, it just makes you so proud. Mr. (Jim) Irsay and what he's meant to Jim and our family, I just can't say enough (about) the friendship over the years. Even when I was a college coach coming to visit training camp, he'd come over and spend time with us. It's just a tremendous, phenomenal organization. Matter of fact, Jim just hired Mr. (Bill) Polian's son, (Brian), on his staff. There are just a lot of great connections there." – Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh on whether his brother, Jim, will be on Baltimore's sideline Saturday
• "This is a league that is so highly competitive, so many great players, and for a guy to be able to perform as well as he has performed, year-in and year-out, and receive that award, that recognition, four times is quite an accomplishment, particularly when you look at the great years he's had prior to this one. Some of those years you'd look at it and say those would be tough to surpass, but yet, he finds a way to do it every year. The great thing about it is, it's great to see a guy who works so hard, who is dedicated, who is a true professional, get that kind of recognition. The great thing, also, is the fact, that today, even right now, he's trying to get better at this moment, looking at our opponent, making certain that he knows all the ins-and-outs about them, trying to find a way to get an edge." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on quarterback Peyton Manning his NFL-record fourth MVP award
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) ROUND TWO FOR STOVER AND THE RAVENS
Having kicked in Baltimore for the better part of the last two decades, Colts kicker Matt Stover knows he still has some Ravens fans pulling for him this weekend.
As for the rest of Stover's new teammates, the veteran kicker is not so sure.
"I think they'll cheer for me and boo the rest of the team," Stover joked.
After joining the Colts midway through the 2009 season, Stover faces his old team for the second time this season on Saturday. In their first meeting, Stover kicked the game-winning field goal to down the Ravens.
"I have paid very close attention to my practice routine and how I'm hitting the ball, so when it does come time on Saturday, I'll be ready to go," he said.
Since taking over for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who Caldwell said still was not 100 percent, Stover has been almost perfect, converting 9-of-11 field goals and converting all 33 of his extra-point attempts.
"When Adam got hurt, to be able to sign Matt, who is just the ultimate professional, truly has been a great addition to our locker room," Manning said. "The team has embraced him well. He has been very solid for us on the field. He's been in a lot of high-pressure situations. He's the same everyday, whether it's warming up before the game or kicking a clutch field goal, and you like having a guy like that as a veteran on your team."
Stover said his phone began ringing off the hook as soon as it became clear last week that the Colts would, in fact, face the Ravens for the second time this season.
"We are hungry, we are ready to go out there and really show this country what we are all about," Stover said, "because we have a great team."
2) TWO OF THE GREATEST
Saturday's game already has plenty at stake, but it also gives fans another chance to see two of the NFL's greatest players in history – Manning and Lewis – duke it out against one another on the field.
"It's always a great challenge playing against No. 52," Manning said.
On one side of the line-of-scrimmage, you have Manning, who leads one of the best aerial attacks of his time. On the other, you have Lewis, one of the most feared linebackers in history, while also being one of the most cerebral.
"It is (a great matchup)," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Nobody's better in the game than Peyton Manning."
Harbaugh said Manning is the best in the league at recognizing defenses and making decisions in terms of where the ball should go. But the coach also admitted he is a little biased toward his own Pro Bowl player.
And like Manning, Lewis orchestrates his unit like a seasoned conductor.
"He's a great leader," Harbaugh said. "He still can move around, he can play, he runs from sideline to sideline, he makes tackles, he's good in coverage, he's good between the tackles. That Pro Bowl honor has been deserved."
3) EVERYONE PITCHING IN
As Peyton Manning said, "everybody will be needed" come Saturday.
That means not only will the Colts be expecting veterans like Wayne, Clark and defensive end Dwight Freeney to step up, but also rookies like wide receiver Austin Collie and defensive back Jerraud Powers.
"There's no question," Manning said. "I kind of do believe in that rule that you are not really a rookie anymore at this point in the season. Those guys have played a lot of football games."
Earlier this week, Wayne was asked why he and several other veterans have played so well in the post-season over the years.
"I think it's just that we're not ready to go home," he said. "We've been here long enough. We've had a lot of close games, a lot of playoff games. We just understand what a playoff game really is and what it really means, as well as a lot of guys on this team."
As "old heads around here," Wayne said the Colts' veterans understand what it takes to win in the post-season, a message they have been trying to relay to the team's younger players.
But in the playoffs, Manning said there are no excuses, whether this is your first post-season appearance or your hundredth.
"We expect them to play like veteran players, and I feel that they will, and I think they'll be ready to go on Saturday," he said.