Manning and Dungy Deliver!

02/05/2007: For once, I am proud to be wrong. I didn’t think the Colts–and Peyton Manning–could keep up with Da Bears. I figured this would be a repeat of the 1984 Super Bowl, when the physical, smashmouth Los Angeles Raiders destroyed the elegant Washington Redskins.

The Indianapolis Colts out-toughed the Bears.

Sure, Rex Grossman was ineffective–and his meltdown in the 4th Quarter certainly sealed it–but the Indianapolis defense had something to do with that.

Sure, Devin Hester ran the opening kickoff for a touchdown and Manning threw an early interception–indeed, for the first quarter it appeared that my prediction was going to come to pass–but the Colts adjusted, tightened up on defense, and made the plays when they needed them.

The Bears defense played well, but they were on the field too long. Their offense couldn’t deliver any long drives, and the Colts dominated the time of possession.

This allowed the Colts to pull away in the second half. While the game was numerically close until the Colts ran back an interception for a touchdown, it wasn’t that close.

Other than the two big plays–the Devin Hester kickoff return and the 52-yard run that set up their only offensive touchdown–the Bears had negligible offense. The Colts hurried Grossman, forced him out of the pocket, sacked him, caused fumbles, and just plain made him miserable.

The Colts offense responded to the Bears defense by relying on short plays and ball control. Result: lots of first downs, huge time of possession, and a systematic wearing down of the Bears defense.

The final score was 29-17, but the Colts gave away 7 points: a fumbled extra point, a Vinateri miss from 32 yards, and a refusal to kick a chip shot field goal with less than 2 minutes in the 4th quarter.

The Chicago offense managed only 10 points, only three more than the Indianapolis defense.

The victory was vindication for Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. Manning will not go down among the ranks of Tarkenton, Marino, and Kelly as great quarterbacks who never won the Big Game.

Dungy had been criticized by many for being “soft”, not a top-flight coach. When Tampa Bay fired him, and brought in Jon Gruden–who delivered a Super Bowl–critics slammed Dungy for being an underperformer and Manning for being a choker. (Note: One could make the case that Gruden is overrated, given that he won the Super Bowl with the team that Dungy built, and has done nothing since that win).

Manning shed that label this year. The road to Miami included wins against Kansas City, the killer Baltimore defense, and New England. In beating the Ravens, the Patriots, and the Bears, Manning conquered three of the most physical defenses in the game.

As for Dungy? His much-maligned defense won 4 straight games against some top-notch running teams. The Bears offense never had a chance to breathe. He kept his team from self-destructing after those early setbacks, and the Colts were well in control by halftime.

Dungy may not go down as one of the great coaches in NFL history, but–for all his stoicism–I defy anyone to suggest that he has any less “piss and vinegar” than Mike Ditka. He absorbed a horrible loss–the suicide of his son–on top of every criticism from the naysayers, and still coached a great season.

When the Colts lost a few games near the end of the season, Dungy righted the ship.

When the Colts were down 21-3 against the Pats–and on the verge of an early blowout in Chicago–Manning found his bearings and delivered the plays when he needed them.

Dungy and Manning did exactly what champions do.