Indianapolis Colts. Super Bowl champions. After seeing the team fail in the playoffs year after year, I didn’t expect they would ever win. But they convinced everyone they were the true champs with an impressive postseason performance, quieting all their doubters with win over archrival New England and a Super Bowl blowout over the Bears. With all the doubt and criticism that Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy have withstood for so long, I think this franchise truly deserves a Super Bowl title. But an intriguing question is, how did they get here? How could this team finally lift up their play and win a championship after six years of postseason failures? First off, so much credit should be given to Peyton Manning. When he lost previous playoff games, he got all the blame (and deserved much of it). But now, after another brilliant season of play, Manning can have the one individual trophy that matters: Super Bowl MVP. Did Manning deserve the MVP? That is a subject of debate. While he led the team efficiently and was relatively mistake-free in the pouring rain, I think the real reason the Colts won were because of the running of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai.
But either way, if the Colts were ever going to win the Super Bowl, it would be because Manning raised his play. And that’s exactly what he did this season. Peyton’s always been good in the regular season, but 2006 might have represented his best work. He threw a career-low nine interceptions in addition to his usual league-leading touchdown passes. But that was expected of him. What was surprising was his clutch play and comeback wins. Against the Giants, Jets, Jaguars, Broncos, and Bills, Manning almost single-handedly rallied his team back for fourth-quarter comeback wins. While he was far from fantastic the first two playoff games–with a 1-to-5 TD-INT ratio against the Chiefs and Ravens–Manning was great for the first time against the Patriots in the playoffs. His comeback from a 21-3 deficit was nothing short of historic. He led his team like no current quarterback in the league can do–not even Tom Brady, whom Manning far outplayed in that game. Above all, Manning is the reason the Colts won the Super Bowl. Throw in any other quarterback into their team–even an elite one–and there is no way the Colts would ever finish above 10-6.
But while Manning deserves the majority of the credit for the Colts’ victory, there are so many more interesting components to this team. Manning is helped by one of the top 10 receiving tandems in the game’s history in Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Harrison, honestly, has never been the greatest playoff receiver. He hasn’t caught a postseason touchdown in three years, and didn’t make any game-changing plays this postseason. But without his greatness and consistency in the regular season, who knows where the Colts would be. He has some of the most reliable hands in NFL history. Harrison’s partner-in-crime, Wayne, has really raised his level of play this year to become a viable second option for Manning. He was the team’s leading receiver in many game this year, and caught two of three touchdown passes by the Colts in the playoffs. A quarterback like Manning can throw to anyone, but these two receivers are truly special.
Indianapolis has become the first pass-oriented team to win the Super Bowl since the Rams in 1999. However, as stated earlier, their tandem of running backs carried the offense in the Super Bowl. Rhodes and Addai complement each other so well, there is no need for Edge James. They combined for over 1,700 yards in the regular season, but were really dominant in the playoffs, with a combined 600 yards. Running the football is simply what wins postseason games, and in the past the Colts just haven’t had that. Could you picture the 2004 Colts winning with a ball-control offense? Me neither. But that’s exactly what the team did against the Bears, and their enormous time-of-possession advantage might have won them the game. Chicago’s hyped-up defense simply could not stop the power running game of Indianapolis.
But the Colts have, for the most part, always had good play from their “triplets.” Their perpetual weakness, similar to many offensive juggernauts, is their defense. This season, as every football fan in America knows, their run defense was historically bad. The Colts allowed more yards and yards per carry than almost any other team ever. And yet this unit stepped up their play enough to win a Super Bowl, which always takes a good run defense. This was the real secret to the Colts’ success this postseason, and if their defense had been even a tad worse, they wouldn’t have come close to the championship.
Perhaps sparked by the return of hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders, the Colts basically dominated on defense in the playoffs. They put up a stifling performance against the Chiefs, holding one of the league’s best rushers (Larry Johnson) to only 32 yards. Then they made the Ravens’ offense look like a high school team. And, though the Patriots scored 34 points, the Colts’ D wasn’t responsible for most. The Pats returned a pick for a touchdown and had great field position throughout. Basically, while in the past the Colts have been merely sufficient on defense in the playoffs, this year their defense may have led them to their title. This isn’t even considering their performance against the Bears. Rex Grossman in the rain is bad enough against any team, and the Colts did their job with the exception of one play (Thomas Jones’ 52-yard run).
The last ingredient the Colts have is a great organization, especially their coaching staff. I can’t remember one Super Bowl that was won by a team with a poor head coach, and that’s why Tony Dungy was so crucial to the Colts’ success. While he sometimes failed in past postseasons, this time around his game plans were truly terrific. Also some credit is due to underrated offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who lets Manning have more control of the game than any other coach would.
Everyone has heard the phrase “defense wins championships” way too often. But, I’ll admit it–this was the case once again this year. The Colts have always had the offense, but what had been missing was a defense that could get the job done. And guess what–their D more than delivered. This thought would have seemed almost preposterous before the playoffs started, but anyone who closely follows the NFL knows there is no rhyme or reason to what goes on. However, teams, players, and coaches who deserve championships usually get them. And this is what happened this year to Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, and the Indianapolis Colts. So congrats to the Colts for defying the odds and delivering a Super Bowl title. Now one question remains: can they do it again?