Limiting Sproles Helped Colts Win in San Diego, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – One of the Colts' primary goals on Sunday came not on defense or offense, but on special teams.
The mission: limit Darren Sproles.
Mission accomplished. And then some.
The Colts, a year after Sproles scored three key, momentum-changing touchdowns – including two on special teams – in the San Diego Chargers' two victories over Indianapolis last season, controlled the fourth-year running back on Sunday night. And Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said that was a key to Indianapolis' 23-20 victory over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
"That really created a lot of field position for us," Dungy said.
Sproles last season returned the opening kickoff of the Chargers' 23-21 regular-season victory in San Diego for a touchdown, and returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown later in the first quarter.
In the Chargers' 28-24 victory over the Colts in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, Sproles' 56-yard touchdown reception gave San Diego a 21-17 third-quarter lead.
On Sunday, Sproles rushed twice for 21 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards, but Dungy said it was the Colts' ability to contain Sproles on returns that made as much of an impact on the outcome.
The Colts punted to Sproles three times. He had one return for four yards and twice opted for fair catches. He returned five kickoffs for an average of 20.2 yards.
"They didn't really start any drives in our territory," Dungy said. "Their average starting point was their 20. That forced them to go the long route. So, even though we gave up some big plays (defensively), it helped us keep them out of the end zone."
SATURDAY UNCERTAIN: Colts center Jeff Saturday may miss time with a calf injury sustained against San Diego Sunday, Dungy said.
How much time the three-time Pro Bowl center could miss isn't yet known.
"Jeff strained a calf muscle," Dungy said. "He did the same thing in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day a few years back (2004). He missed a couple of weeks with that. We're hoping it's not going to be as long. We knew right away that he wasn't going to return last night, but as far how it will go, we really don't know yet. We'll just have to wait and see."
Safety Bob Sanders also missed a second consecutive game Sunday with a knee injury.
"It's kind of what we've been fighting the last couple of years," Dungy said. "We're just going to have to find that happy medium of practice time where he gets sharp and gets to feeling comfortable without practicing so much that his knee keeps swelling.
"Hopefully, we'll find that happy medium this week."
ETC., ETC: Rookie center Jamey Richard replaced Saturday, playing the final three quarters against a line that includes one of the NFL's top nose tackles, Jamal Williams. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked just once in the game, and the Colts gained 341 yards and converted 10 of 17 third downs. "Jamey did exceptionally well for going in and playing against a really great player," Dungy said. "Jamal had his plays where he overpowered him just like he does everybody, but for the most part, Jamey hung in there and there were a lot of different packages he had to identify. I think other guys helped him out – (guard) Charlie Johnson and our running backs and everyone, but Jamey did a great job under the circumstances. Jamey got ready to play even though he wasn't planning on playing, and that's what you have to do as a backup player. You have to be ready and he did. He was ready to go." . . . Dungy said aside from Saturday, there were no major injuries Sunday. "There wasn't anyone that couldn't finish the game, so that was good news," he said. "It was a very physical game – a few minor things – but nothing unusual."