Mathis' Three Sacks Key to Colts' Defensive Effort
INDIANAPOLIS – Robert Mathis saw it simply, and spoke of it afterward simply, too.
The Colts' sixth-year defensive end's numbers Sunday afternoon in a 31-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the team's most-dominant defensive effort of the season:
• Four tackles for loss.
• Three sacks.
• Two quarterback hurries.
• One forced fumble.
• One fumble recovered.
And as anyone around the Colts could have predicted, one very succinct quote from Mathis to describe it all afterward.
"Just doing by job," Mathis said with a smile.
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said it was a bit more involved than that, and said Mathis' spike in production in the last two weeks has been more about him getting opunities than about the athletic, speedy pass rusher changing much about his game.
The Colts, through the first three games and three quarters of the season, struggled at times to stop the run, and through much of the first four weeks, they therefore put teams in comparatively few passing situations.
Including the last four minutes of a 31-27 victory over the Houston Texans last week, Mathis – the team's sacks leader from 2005-2007 – has four sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in a little more than four full quarters.
"Robert's a guy who makes plays for us," Dungy said. "He plays with a lot of energy. He hustles and runs things down. We hadn't gotten a lot of chances to play him. When we get ahead and we're rushing the passer, that's when he can really stand out.
"The last 68 minutes, when people got behind and had to throw, he's been there with big plays. Robert does it down in and down out when he's on the field."
RASH AT RUNNING BACK: The Colts entered the game Sunday with three healthy running backs. Early in the second quarter, that total was down to one.
Dominic Rhodes, the Colts' backup running back, finished the game with 73 yards rushing on 25 carries, and he also finished the game as the team's only healthy running back.
Joseph Addai, the Colts' starter and leading rusher, sustained a hamstring injury in the first quarter. He did not return.
"I think Joseph is going to be OK," Dungy said.
Rookie running back Mike Hart then sustained an injury to his right knee in the second quarter. He also did not return, and Dungy said afterward.
"We don't know the extent of it, but right now, it doesn't look great," Dungy said.
Had Rhodes not been able to finish the game, Dungy said the plan was to play rookie tight end Tom Santi at fullback and run a pass-oriented offense.
"We would have pretty much been in a passing game," Dungy said. "He knows the routes, and we could have run the ball a little bit, but it would have probably been all passes after that. It's just one of those things. You don't expect two backs to get hurt."
PINBALL WIZARD: One of the Colts' most memorable plays of the early season – and their longest running play to date – came just before halftime.
Rhodes, playing in place of Addai, took a handoff from quarterback Peyton Manning and ran around the left side of the line. There, he made a cut that allowed him to avoid a tackle by nine-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Rhodes, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Colts before spending last season with Oakland before re-signing with the Colts, then avoided seven more Ravens defenders — breaking at least five tackles – on a 38-yard gain to the Ravens 13.
Three plays later, the Colts extended their lead to 24-0 with a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
"He and I were talking about it in warm-ups," Dungy said. "When we beat them (the Ravens) in the playoffs (following the 2006 regular season), he had such a key role. He was the guy who kind of carried the load in the fourth quarter. I thought he was going to have a big day and he did. He stepped up. . . . He gave us some energy.
"He knew as soon as Mike got hurt he was going to have to carry it the rest of the day. He was up to the task. The one thing about Dom is he has a lot of energy. He's always ready no matter what, and he was today."
THE RIGHT STUFF: Historically, points for the Colts have been scarce when playing the Ravens. In the past two meetings, the Colts have altered that history.
From 2002-2006, the teams played four times, and although the Colts won all four meetings, scoring was difficult. They beat the Ravens 22-20 in 2002, 20-10 in 2004, 24-7 in 2006 and 15-6 in the postseason following the 2006 season.
In December of last season, the Colts played the Ravens on a Sunday night in Baltimore and scored touchdowns on six of their first eight possessions en route to a 44-20, playoff appearance-clinching victory. On Sunday, they scored 17 first-quarter points en route to a 31-3 victory.
After scoring touchdowns on two of its first three possessions Sunday, the Colts' first-team offense had scored touchdowns on eight of 11 drives against Baltimore dating to last season.
TOO MUCH YELLOW: Dungy wasn't thrilled with everything about Sunday's victory.
The Colts have been penalized more than usual this season, and that trend continued Sunday, a game in which the Colts were penalized 11 times for 84 yards. One of those penalties, a fourth-quarter holding penalty, cost the team a touchdown pass from Manning to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"We're not going to be able to afford to have that many penalties and give up that many yards," Dungy said.
TURNOVER TIME: A Colts turnover streak continued early Sunday.
The Colts, after forcing two turnovers in their first three games and three quarters this season, forced three a week ago on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions. The plays were key to Indianapolis' 31-27 victory over the Houston Texans.
On the Ravens' first possession Sunday, cornerback Tim Jennings tipped a pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that was intercepted by Colts safety Melvin Bullitt It was the fourth consecutive opponent's possession that ended in a turnover for the Colts' defense.
The Colts forced turnovers on two more first-half drives on Sunday and two more in the second half, giving them eight takeaways in the last five quarters and 10 for the season.
SECOND CARRY, FIRST DOWN: Hart had one carry – the second of his NFL career – Sunday. He made it count.
On 3rd-and-2 from the Ravens 24, Hart took a handoff and was hit before he reached the line of scrimmage. He bounced off a tackler, then after being hit again, pushed forward for a two-yard gain and a first down.
Three plays later, Manning passed 22 yards to wide receiver Reggie Wayne for a touchdown and a 14-0 Indianapolis lead.
BULLITT, BULLITT, BULLITT: It would be hard to have a much more productive – or much more high-profile – quarter than Colts second-year safety Bullitt had in the first quarter Sunday.
First, Bullitt's interception off a tipped pass gave the Colts their first takeway early in the first quarter on the Ravens' first drive.
Two possessions later, Bullitt made a hard hit to stop Ravens returner Yamon Figures at the Ravens 16 for a 19-yard kickoff return. On the Ravens' next kickoff return – after the Colts took a 14-0 lead – Bullitt made an equally hard hit to stop Figures at the Ravens 14 for a 19-yard return.
JENNINGS STARTS: As expected, third-year cornerback Tim Jennings moved into the starting lineup for the Colts Sunday.
Jennings, a second-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, started at cornerback in place of fourth-year veteran Kelvin Hayden, who sustained a knee injury against the Houston Texans last week.
Jennings had started four games for the Colts last season, with all four starts coming at the team's nickelback position. Sunday was Jennings' first start at one of the team's top two cornerback positions.
On the Colts' first series, Jennings tipped a pass that was intercepted by Colts safety Melvin Bullitt.
SEVEN INACTIVE: Hayden, who had started the past 20 regular-season games for the Colts, was one of seven players made inactive by the team shortly before kickoff. The others were:
Safety Bob Sanders (knee), cornerback Nick Graham, linebacker Buster Davis, offensive lineman Dan Federkeil, defensive tackle Dan Muir and defensive tackle Marcus Howard.
ETC., ETC.: When Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught a 67-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning, it was his second touchdown of the season and the 125th of his 13-year NFL career. The 125 touchdowns moved him into a tie with Walter Payton for 10th place on the NFL's all-time career list, and he surpassed Payton with his 5t second-quarter reception. . . . Wayne's 22-yard, first-quarter touchdown reception gave him a team-high four this season and 51 for his career. The 51 is the third-best total in Colts history, moving him into sole possession of third-place on the team's career list ahead of Jimmy Orr and behind Harrison (126) and Raymond Berry (68). . . . The Colts have won six consecutive meetings with Baltimore, with the Ravens' last victory in the series coming in 2001. The Colts beat Baltimore in 2002, 2004, 2005, the 2006 postseason, last season and Sunday. The last two victories have come by a combined 75-23, while the first four came by a combined 81-43.
HOW THEY SCORED
RAVENS 00 00 00 03 – 03
COLTS 17 07 07 00 – 31
COLTS 7, RAVENS 0
Marvin Harrison 67 pass from Peyton Manning (Adam Vinatieri kick), 9:43 remaining first quarter. Four plays, 79 yards, 1:36. Key play: Reggie Wayne 10 pass from Manning on 3rd-and-8 from Colts 23.
COLTS 14, RAVENS 0
Wayne 22 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 2:43 remaining first quarter. Drive :10 plays, 61 yards, 4:55. Key play: Mike Hart 2 run on 3rd-and-2 from Ravens 24.
COLTS 17, RAVENS 0
Vinatieri 37 FG, :38 remaining first quarter. Drive: Four plays, nine yards, 1:13. Key play: Freddy Keiaho recovers fumble to give Colts 1st-and-10 at Ravens 23.
COLTS 24, RAVENS 0
Harrison 5 pass from Manning (Vinatieri kick), 1:48 remaining second quarter. Drive: Five plays, 52 yards, 1:58. Key play: Dominic Rhodes 38 run on 2nd-and-9 from Colts 49.
COLTS 31, RAVENS 0
Dominic Rhodes 1 run (Vinatieri kick), 9:25 remaining third quarter. Drive: 11 plays, 80 yards, 5:35. Key play: Dallas Clark 8 pass from Manning on 3rd-and-8 from Ravens 44.
COLTS 31, RAVENS 3
Matt Stover 37 FG, 1:15 remaining third quarter. Drive: 15 plays, 62 yards, 8:10. Key play: Willis McGahee 5 pass from Joe Flacco on 3rd-and-2 from Ravens 27.