Rested Colts Pull Away From Ravens for 20-3 AFC Divisional Playoff Victory
INDIANAPOLIS – They Colts were rested – very, very rested – they were raucous, and as it turned out, they were ready.
That went for the fans, too.
With quarterback Peyton Manning throwing two second-quarter touchdown passes in a two-minute span, and with the defense stingy and opunistic throughout, the Colts pulled away from a tight game for a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in front of 67,535 Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I thought we came out sharp on both sides of the ball and kind of set the tempo for the game," said Manning, who completed 30 of 44 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
"Obviously, being healthy was important. We had a lot of guys back. . . . There's no question veteran football players are going to be a little sore and nicked up late in the season. There's no question the guys used the off week."
The Colts, who rested some starters after two and a half quarters in Week 16 and for three quarters in the regular-season finale, talked throughout this past week about the quality of practices and preparation during the postseason bye week. Afterwards on Saturday, Colts players said being rested was a factor.
"We felt as good as we can possibly feel," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "No one's going to go out and feel like they've never taken a hit before preseason football. The biggest thing is, we felt no worse. That's the huge part about it that people don't understand.
"Sometimes, it's not about, 'OK, you're getting back to 100 percent.' You're just not getting any worse. We definitely executed and played well."
The Colts (15-2) will play the winner of Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff between San Diego and the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
That game will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 3 p.m.
The 67,535 fans Saturday totaled a franchise record.
"They were great," Manning said. "They were outstanding, just like they have been all season for us. I wasn't surprised. I knew they'd be loud and ready to go. We'll need them again next week and we look forward to coming back and playing."
The game turned in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half, with Manning throwing touchdown passes of 10 yards to wide receiver Austin Collie and three yards to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
The Ravens, who rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries in a 33-14 Wild Card victory over the New England Patriots last Sunday, rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries. Ravens running back Ray Rice, who rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns last week, rushed for 67 yards on 13 carries.
"It was a heck of a performance," said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, who celebrated his 55th birthday Saturday.
The Colts had lost Divisional Playoff games the last four times they had secured a first-round playoff bye, losing to Cleveland following the 1987 season, Tennessee following the 1999 season, Pittsburgh following the 2005 season and San Diego following the 2007 season.
"I never thought it was necessarily where you were playing or when you were playing," Manning said. "It's about executing on that day. It doesn't matter if you had a bye before, or if you were playing home or away. In the past we've been able to win on the road, and I know there was this myth that you couldn't win at home after a bye week, but I didn't believe in it. I always thought the games we hadn't won after a bye week, we didn't play as well as the teams we played.
"Today, we played better than Baltimore, and as a result, we won the game."
The Colts' last victory in a Divisional Playoff game came following the 2006 season, the year they won their last Super Bowl. They beat Baltimore in Baltimore, 15-6, the last time the Colts held an opponent without a touchdown in the post-season.
The Colts have won their last eight games overall against Baltimore.
On Saturday, the Colts and Ravens were tied after the first quarter, one in which each team had opportunities to take the lead.
The Colts took the opening kickoff and drove 64 yards on 10 plays, using 4:16 to take a 3-0 lead when former Ravens kicker Matt Stover converted a 44-yard field goal with 10:44 remaining. On the ensuing series, the Ravens drove 87 yards on 15 plays, using 7:47 to tie the game with a 29-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
Indianapolis narrowly missed a chance to push the lead to 10-0 on the series. On 3rd-and-goal, Colts safety Antoine Bethea cut in front of a pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco at the Indianapolis 1. With open field in front of him, Bethea couldn't hang on, and Cundiff tied the game on the ensuing play.
Each team punted on its next two possessions, with the Colts taking possession on their 25 with 10 minutes remaining in the half.
From there, Manning led them on their go-ahead drive.
The Colts drove 75 yards on 14 plays, using eight minutes and taking a 10-3 lead when Manning threw a 10-yard pass to Collie in the left side of the end zone. The Colts converted six first downs on the drive, picking up a 3rd-and-6 and a 4th-and-4.
The Ravens failed to convert a first down on the ensuing possession, with Freeney pressuring Flacco into an incomplete pass on 2nd-and-6 from the Ravens 22 and Flacco throwing incomplete on third down.
The Colts then drove 64 yards on eight plays, pushing the lead to 14 points when Manning threw a short in route to Wayne with three seconds remaining in the half on 3rd-and-goal from the 3.
The Colts maintained their lead in the second half with solid defense and timely turnovers, one of which came when the Colts were on offense and the other two when they were on defense.
One of the biggest plays in the second half came with 6:01 remaining in the third quarter, when Ravens safety Ed Reed intercepted Manning at the Baltimore 35. Reed returned it 38 yards to the Colts 27 before Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon poked the ball from Reed. Tight end Dallas Clark recovered.
The Colts forced two fourth-quarter turnovers, with linebacker Clint Session recovering a fumble at the Colts 20 and safety Antoine Bethea intercepting Flacco at the Colts 2 with 4:53 remaining.
Rookie cornerback Jerraud Powers intercepted Flacco at the Colts 14 with 1:14 remaining to end the Ravens' final possession.
"You've got to stay in," Freeney said. "You've got to keep fighting. We've been doing it all year. We've been winning games different ways all year. We've had to kick five field goals with no touchdowns. We've needed special teams. Sometimes, they don't score 10 points, so it's defense. Sometimes, they put up points and we score 40 points.
"We find different ways to win. Football is a complete, total team sport. As much as whoever wants to make it just about one guy or whatever, it's so much not that. There are 53 guys on this roster.
"Sometimes, special teams wins games. Sometimes, defense wins. Sometimes, the offense wins. That's the makeup of this team this year is."