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Monday, February 05, 2007

Newsday's Arthur Staple wraps up the coverage of the Big Game

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Colts finally grab ring
Manning, Dungy use ball control, 5 turnovers to get that elusive title

Newsday Staff Correspondent

February 5, 2007

MIAMI -- Peyton Manning showed he could win without being flashy. Tony Dungy showed a coach could rally his team through tough times without screaming. And the Colts, the decade's most dominant team during the regular season, showed they could win the big one.

Their 29-17 win over the self-destructive Bears in Super Bowl XLI on a rainy night at Dolphin Stadium capped an up-and-down season for the Colts, who won their first championship since moving from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. They started 9-0, then stumbled to a 3-4 finish with a Swiss cheese defense, seemingly needing Manning to put them on his back.

Turns out the Colts needed Manning to be smart and safe. He was picked off by safety Chris Harris on the Colts' first drive last night, then guided his offense smoothly by dumping off passes underneath a deep-playing secondary.

Rookie running back Joseph Addai led the Colts with 10 catches, and Dominic Rhodes ran for 113 yards as the Colts ate up clock, holding the ball for 38:04 and running 81 plays to the Bears' 48. Five turnovers by the Bears offset three by the Colts, all in the first half.

"This was a great team win, a team championship," said Manning, who won the MVP award despite a modest 25-for-38, 247- yard game. His only touchdown pass was his only big play, a 53-yard strike to a wide-open Reggie Wayne in the first quarter.

"With our defense playing the way it has, you don't feel like you have to be quite as aggressive," Manning said. "It wasn't really that way in the regular season. The defense has been outstanding in the playoffs. It's nice to be able to get this win as a team."

And for Dungy, who had as much a bridesmaid's reputation as Manning for being a great coach unable to win a championship. He still never changed his genial ways, and it paid off when he became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl by besting his close friend and former assistant, Lovie Smith.

"This may not have been the best team we had over the last five years, but it's definitely the team that's been through the most," said Dungy, who had one of his sons on the postgame podium with him. His son James committed suicide in December 2005.

"This wasn't the easy road, it was the tough road. And tonight, more than anything, we were a team, fighting together all the way through."

They were fighting from behind just 14 seconds in after rookie Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a score. Between that and Manning's interception, Chicago couldn't have envisioned a better start. Even after Wayne's TD, Thomas Jones ripped off a 52-yard run to the 5 and Rex Grossman hit Muhsin Muhammad for a 4-yard TD to give the Bears a 14-6 lead after a quarter.

"We got a chance to set the tempo," said Hester, who barely touched the ball again, with the Colts squibbing kicks to steer clear of him. "We set it early, but we couldn't keep it going."

Even with long, clock-eating drives, the Colts settled for three Adam Vinatieri field goals inside the red zone and let the Bears hang around into the fourth quarter.

But Grossman, the whipping boy entering the grand stage, lived down to his billing. He had two fumbles, two sacks after slipping on the wet field and two fourth-quarter interceptions. Backup defensive back Kelvin Hayden returned the first 56 yards with 11:44 to play to make it 29-17, crushing the Bears when Chicago still had a chance.

"Not just Rex, all of us could handle the situation better next time," Smith said. "It's a growing experience for him as much as anything."

The Colts have grown as much as they could during the last five seasons, winning 60 regular-season games while Manning cemented his Hall of Fame status. But the playoffs had been a different story. The Colts either ran into the Patriots' juggernaut or coughed up games like last year's home loss to the Steelers.

So even after their torrid start this season, the bad finish - including a Dec. 10 loss to the Jaguars in which they allowed 375 rushing yards - made the Colts leery. But the defense stiffened in the playoffs against the Chiefs and Ravens, and Manning lit up the scoreboard in the second half to finally vanquish the Patriots two weeks ago.

Then last night the Colts beat the Bears at the game Chicago hoped to play: smash-mouth running and ball control. Manning was a guide, not a do-it-all, and perhaps that was the difference in their becoming champions.

"It's just been a long time coming for us," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We've been through so much as a team, been so close so many times. We finally got a chance in the Super Bowl and we seized it."

So it was a good game considering the weather and such. Now we are just waiting for Zennie to return and Post about his visit to South beach.

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