Unit again steps up to playoff challenge

Coming into the playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts figured to be a team that was going to rely more on the accurate right arm of quarterback Peyton Manning than on the strong right leg of kicker Adam Vinatieri. For the Colts to survive, they were going to have to win shootouts, not shutouts.

Manning has thrown five interceptions and only one touchdown pass in the postseason, but Indianapolis is going to the AFC championship game after Vinatieri's five field goals and another stingy performance by the once-maligned defense led the Colts to a 15-6 win yesterday over the Ravens at M&T; Bank Stadium.


"It was kind of a throwback game for us," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We used to win a lot of games like this way, we kind of went old school. But it was a game we had to play. That's one of the things we learned the last five years, how to play tight games, how to play defensive games, how to play on the road."

In preparing his players for the Ravens, Dungy made reference to his years coaching in Tampa Bay.


"I teased the guys about playing 'Buc Ball,' " Dungy said. "That's what we talked about all week. It was going to be a game where Adam was going to be important. We have to play a field position game, we have to get field goals, we have to throw the ball away some. It's hard for our offense to do."

Said Manning: "Obviously you want to get touchdowns, it's frustrating to have to settle for field goals, but I saw how our defense was playing early and we thought that field goals would be enough if we got enough of them and kept possession of the football and made a couple of third-down conversions."

None of the third-down conversions was bigger than the 14-yard pass Manning made to tight end Dallas Clark on third-and-five from the Ravens' 45 with a little less than four minutes left. Clark made a sliding catch with cornerback Corey Ivy nearby. With Manning completing 15 of 30 passes for 170 yards and being intercepted twice by Ravens safety Ed Reed - the second Manning equated to a good punt - it was left to the defense, and Vinatieri, to control the game. The Colts held Jamal Lewis to 53 yards on 13 carries, the Ravens to 83 yards rushing and forced four turnovers.

Linebacker Gary Brackett recovered a fumble at the Ravens' 31 after cornerback Nick Harper knocked the ball loose from tight end Todd Heap. Rookie safety Antoine Bethea later intercepted Steve McNair at the Colts' 1. Both turnovers led to field goals by Vinatieri. Harper also intercepted McNair, who also fumbled after being sacked on Baltimore's last possession.

Has a team that finished dead last against the run and tied for second in scoring reinvented itself for the playoffs? "I don't think so, man, we've been here," said safety Bob Sanders, whose return in last week's wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs started the revival. "When you're not playing as well as you can, people talk bad about you and say you're not going to win because of the defense. I don't care what nobody says. What are you going to say now? We're just going to do what we're going to do."

Said Dungy: "Things were never as bad as they looked. We understood what was going on, the run defense especially. We knew we were going to get some guys back toward the end of the year. We knew what the problems were. We don't have them all them corrected. Two is a coincidence, we want to develop a pattern."