Clark's Clutch Catches Lead Colts to Victory
The fourth quarter from Miami provided plenty of excitement Monday night, but it was the first play from scrimmage that set the tone for the Colts' triumphant 27-23 victory over the Dolphins.
After taking a touchback on the initial kickoff, the Colts only needed one play to get on the scoreboard.
Quarterback Peyton Manning took the snap from his own 20, faked a handoff to running back Joseph Addai and found tight end Dallas Clark open over the middle. Clark caught the pass around midfield, broke one tackle and sprinted the rest of the way for an 80-yard touchdown.
"Nothing like starting the first play of the game with a touchdown," Manning said after the game. "I'm glad we got that one in."
The play lasted just 12 seconds, and was one of three Colts scoring drives that lasted less than a minute. Miami controlled possession all game (45:07 to 14:53), but it was the Colts' opportunistic offense that controlled the outcome.
"It was all about being efficient when it counted in the fourth quarter," Manning said. "And that's what really matters."
In addition to scoring on the first play of the night, Clark stepped up for the Colts throughout the game, finishing with seven catches and a career-high 183 yards.
"He's a marvelous player and he did a tremendous job across the board," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said.
Not only did Clark score the opening touchdown, but his two clutch catches in the fourth quarter set up additional scores.
Down seven with 12:37 left in the fourth, Manning hit Clark deep down the right side of the field for 49 yards, setting up rookie running back Donald Brown's 15-yard score four plays later.
About nine minutes later, this time with the Colts down three, Clark caught a 17-yard pass on second down to move the ball to around midfield. Two plays later, Manning passed to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who took advantage of excellent downfield blocking and scored the game-winning 48-yard touchdown.
"(The play) was an audible," Garcon said. "Peyton saw the coverage, audibled, and it worked out well."
With wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez out, and the Dolphins in a two-man coverage that left wide receiver Reggie Wayne double-teamed most the night, Clark often found himself open Monday night.
"Your inside guys are the ones who are going to get single coverage (against Miami's defense)," Caldwell said. "And it is hard to single-cover Dallas. He gives you all types of problems when you do that…lots of the time, a linebacker is trying to run around with him and that presents quite a problem. He's big and he's fast, and he did a great job."
Despite holding possession for only a quarter of the game, Caldwell said the Colts were able to come out victorious thanks to big scores at the right time.
"We lacked so many opportunities, we had to take advantage of the ones we were presented with," he said. "We certainly had a lot of mistakes. We would have liked to play better in a number of areas, but we can learn from our mistakes and build upon this, and I think it'll help us become a better team."
• When asked afterwards if he had ever scored on the first play of the game before, Manning admitted, "Yeah, I have." The Colts scored on the first play from scrimmage against New Orleans in 2001 on an 86-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Marcus Pollard, and Manning also threw an 80-yard touchdown to Marvin Harrison on his first offensive play against Pittsburgh in 2005.
• Clark's 183-yard performance is the fourth-most receiving yards by a tight end in a single game since the 1970 NFL Merger. Shannon Sharpe holds the all-time record with 214 yards in a game in 2002.
• Clark's 80-yard play tied the longest reception of his career. Clark and Manning continue to be the most prolific active QB-TE tandem in the NFL with 32 touchdowns.
• Colts rookie running back Donald Brown finished with 50 all-purpose yards and scored a crucial touchdown in the fourth quarter. "It was memorable," Brown said of the play. "The offensive line did a great job and got me right in the secondary. It is my job to make the safety miss and get into the end zone from there."
• The Colts now face a short week and prepare to travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals on Sunday night. "We won't get back home until about 4:15 in the morning," Caldwell said after the game. "We'll be back on the practice field within 36 hours, which is highly unusual. We are going to try and modify our Wednesday practice slightly…but we still need time to prepare. (Arizona) is a dangerous team and can score a lot of points and give us a lot of problems on defense."