Opportunistic Defense Leads Colts Past Ravens in AFC Divisional Round
INDIANAPOLIS – Following the Colts' victory late Saturday night over the Baltimore Ravens in the first post-season game in Lucas Oil Stadium, the players huddled in the locker room to deliver one final message to their head coach.
"He was cheesing from ear-to-ear," linebacker Clint Session said. "I knew he felt good about the win. There was no greater gift we could have given him."
The gift for Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on his birthday was a 20-3 victory over the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. Led by a staunch defensive effort, the Colts defeated a physical Baltimore team to and advance to next weekend's AFC Championship Game.
While the offense was efficient, the defense was persistent, forcing three turnovers and keeping Baltimore's offensive playmakers in check. Ravens running back Ray Rice finished with just 67 yards on the ground and quarterback Joe Flacco threw two late interceptions.
"The defense did just a tremendous job," Caldwell said. "Any time you hold an offense, with the way they run the ball, under 100 yards is tremendous. I think when you look at what Baltimore has been able to do over the last few weeks, I think we did indeed play hard, tackled well, played opportunistic and made them turn the ball over.
"It was a heck of a performance."
After allowing Baltimore to score on a 25-yard field goal on their first possession of the game, the Colts clamped down on their conference foe, forcing the Ravens to punt five times and keeping their opponent out of scoring range.
The 20-3 victory marks the fewest points the Colts have given up in a playoff game since 1971, when they defeated the Cleveland Browns by the exact same score.
With the offense putting up two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the second quarter, and the defense forcing Baltimore three-and-out on their final three positions of the half, the defense gained plenty of breathing room. But the unit did not relax one bit.
"At halftime we went into the locker room thinking it was 0-0," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "That's the kind of mentality you have to have as a defensive player. Never let down, stay razor sharp and fight every single play like it's your last."
The defense was particularly relentless versus Rice, who finished with 127 scrimmage yards, but failed to score a touchdown and fumbled in the fourth quarter following a hit by defensive end Raheem Brock.
"We knew we had to wrap him up, get some hits on him, and not let him get any (more) yards," Session said. "And that's what we did tonight."
To contain Rice, Session said the defensive line "buckled down" and focused on primarily stopping the run.
In addition, Caldwell credited Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer's gameplan and said his players did a great job in gap control.
"(Rice) made us miss a few, but we had great hustle," the Colts coach said. "Even though a few guys would miss, we had someone behind him to get him down."
Colts players said it helped that the team's first-unit offense and defense squared off against one another extensively during the team's "preparation week."
"Good, competitive, enthusiastic, spirited practices," Peyton Manning said. "You're going against Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea and not against a guy on the practice squad. I thought it made both sides of the ball better."
With the Colts up big late in the ballgame, the defense continued to play as if the game remained in the balance.
Safety Antoine Bethea intercepted a deep Flacco pass with just over five minutes remaining and rookie defensive back Jerraud Powers intercepted a tipped pass with 1:12 left, leading to the Colts kneeling out the clock for victory.
In all, the Colts forced the Ravens three-and-out four times and allowed their opponent to drive inside their red zone only twice, resulting in a field goal and an interception.
With the Colts 17-15 victory at Baltimore in November, Indianapolis now has held the Ravens without a touchdown in eight consecutive quarters.
"Our defense did not allow them to move the ball and get in position to score," Caldwell said. "They just did a great job overall."
As the clock moved closer to midnight, the Colts players exited the victorious locker room one by one.
Freeney, one of the team's longest-tenured players, was one of the last to leave. He said winning felt great, but noted the team's primary goal still remains.
The defense rose to the occasion Saturday night and helped deliver the Colts a victory, and their head coach the perfect birthday present.
Said Freeney, "It was a really good feeling to see him smile at the end of the game."
• With the victory Saturday, Indianapolis improves to 9-2 all-time against Baltimore and an unblemished 5-0 record at home.
• The Colts set a club record Saturday with an attendance of 67,535 inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
• In the second quarter, linebacker Gary Brackett registered the only Colts sack of the game, a six-yard loss on 3rd down that forced the Ravens to punt.
• Defensive tackle Dan Muir led the Colts with seven tackles, one of which was for a loss, and cornerback Kelvin Hayden contributed six tackles. Hayden also forced Ravens tight end Todd Heap to fumble in the fourth quarter, but the ball bounced out of bounds.
• The last time the Colts faced the Ravens in the playoffs, they defeated Baltimore, 15-6, on the road in 2006.