Back to the Recent Future
Last week was one of those weeks when history repeated itself. The Ravens demolition of the Patriots was comparable in many ways to the Houston Oilers easy win over the favored Patriots in the 1978 playoffs in Foxboro, right down to the rushing statistics.
But that was last week…
This week we can turn the clocks back about 4 years to January 15, 2006, when the Wild Card Steelers visited the Colts in the 2005 playoffs to draw a comparison.
And frankly the parallels to this contest surpass even those chronicled in last week’s article linking the Ravens/Patriots Wild Card Game to the Patriots’ memorable battle with the Oilers in ’78.
Everyone knows the Colts story this year. Despite some scares along the way threatening their unblemished record, Indianapolis jumped out to a 14-0 record relying as always on future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s arm to lead the way.
The Colts for all of their dominance during the 2009 season are still more known for not going for the flawless 16-0 season. While battling the Jets in a close week fifteen game head coach Jim Caldwell decided to rest his starters in the second half. The result, the Jets scored 19 unanswered points for a 29-15 victory.
But what a lot people missed was the fact they also rushed for over 200 yards.
The next week in the snow the Colts did not even show up in 30-7 loss to the Bills and consequently they enter the playoffs on a 2 game losing streak. For all intents and purposes instead of playing to win, the Colts went on a short sabbatical.
Today the Colts appear to be a team as flat as any I have ever seen entering the playoffs eerily similar to the 2005 rendition of the Indianapolis Colts.
Tony Dungy coached the 2005 Colts to a 13-0 record to start the season. The Colts were a well balanced team, Manning threw for 28 scores, wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne combined for 165 receptions, 2652 yards, and 25 touchdowns, TE Dallas Clark added 37 receptions with 4 scores. Rolling double coverage was not an option for opponents.
The rushing attack was represented well by Edgerrin James who rushed for 1,506 yards and 13 scores. Manning’s key though was throwing off of play action, and James running the Colts patented stretch running play. When everything was clicking for them this was one of the best offensive teams in NFL history.
Then came week 14, coach Dungy made it clear that while winning all of their games and matching the 1972 Dolphins and 1948 Browns would be nice, staying healthy for the playoffs was more important. The Colts’ players backed their coach in the press, but privately they wanted to make history.
When San Diego came to visit the Colts during week 14, Dungy planned to play his starters against the Chargers but word leaked out that regardless of the outcome, he was resting players their last 2 regular season games.
The team’s focus drifted from the Chargers to resting players the next couple of weeks. Predictably the Colts played flat and fell behind early. Despite a late rally the Chargers won 26-17.
The Colts mailed in a 28-13 road loss to the Seahawks the next week and did finish with a 17-13 win over the lowly Cardinals behind back up quarterback Jim Sorgi.
The Colts were the number one seed in the playoffs but they had lost momentum. A visit from sixth seeded Pittsburgh awaited the Colts in the AFC playoffs.
Rookie Ben Roethlisberger took over for the injured Tommy Maddox in a week 2 loss in Baltimore in 2004 and never relinquished the starting position. Roethlisberger went 14-1 as a starter but lost in the 2004 AFC Championship 41-27 in Pittsburgh to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
In 2005 the Steelers had to fight the entire year to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger was an average quarterback his second year throwing for 17 scores with nine interceptions. Willie Parker had taken over the starting running back spot from veteran and fan favorite Jerome Bettis. They had to beat the 5-10 Lions in Pittsburgh to make the playoffs as a sixth seed the last game of the regular season. The Steelers won 35-21, but the game was closer than the score indicated.
Pittsburgh traveled to meet division rival and the third seeded Bengals in the Wild Card round. Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer completed a sixty six yard pass on the Bengals’ second play from scrimmage but was knocked out of the game with a knee injury by right defensive end Kimmo von Oelhoffen’s controversial hit. Jon Kitna replaced Palmer and built a 10 point lead.
After that it was all Steelers as they scored 24 unanswered points while taking advantage of three Bengals’ turnovers. The 31-17 victory sent the Steelers to Indianapolis in a divisional playoff contest.
January 15, 2006
The thought in on every fan’s mind was, “Were the Colts ready to play?”
Did resting Manning, Harrison, Wayne, and James the previous 2 weeks of the regular season and having a week off make the Colts rusty or make them well rested for the surging Steelers.
The answer would come right away.
Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 84 yards on their first possession, completing six consecutive passes for 76 yards. The drive ended with a Roethlisberger to Antwaan Randle El six yard scoring pass.
Later in the period Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to another score, his forty five yard completion to Hines Ward was the highlight of their second scoring drive which was punctuated by a Roethlisberger to TE Heath Miller 7 yard scoring pass. The first period ended, Steelers 14-0.
The Colts were rusty to say the least.
Manning moved the Colts into scoring position the second quarter but could manage just a Mike Vanderjagt field goal. The half ended with a 14-3 Steelers advantage.
In the third period a Steelers’ sack deep in Colt territory and a 20 yard Randle El punt return put the Steelers back in scoring position. Bettis would score the only points of the quarter on a one yard run. The nervous Colts crowd saw their season slipping away as Pittsburgh led 21-3 heading into the 4th period of play.
The flat Colts finally woke up and struck pay dirt with a 50 yard scoring pass from Manning to Clark. With just under 14 minutes left the Colts had closed the gap to 21-10. Pittsburgh took the kickoff and drove the ball but was eventually forced to punt but the drive drained the clock down to 6:03 left in the game.
Manning went to work completing long passes to Harrison and Wayne. James would punch the ball in for a score and Manning would hit Wayne for a 2 point conversion, pulling the Colts to 21-18.
The Steelers could not move the ball and punted back to the Colts but with just over a minute left, Manning was sacked on fourth and 16 at the Colts’ 2 yard line. The Steelers took over on downs and had the game seemingly won. Roethlisberger though could not just take a knee because the Colts had all of their timeouts, so the Steelers attempted to run the ball.
Jerome Bettis would attempt to put the game away when he took a Roethlisberger handoff but Colt linebacker Gary Brackett knocked the ball loose, defensive back Nick Harper picked up the ball and raced towards the Pittsburgh goal line. Roethlisberger though saved the game at the Colt 40 when he spun around and grabbed Harper’s ankle bringing him down.
Manning would drive the Colts to the Steelers 29 yard line.
Vanderjagt who had not missed a field goal all year at the RCA Dome would attempt to send the game into overtime. By now the rusty Colts had the momentum, something that took them the entire game to capture. It appeared that they would have the upper hand as the game moved into overtime.
The Steelers would become the first sixth seed to beat a one seed in the expanded NFL playoffs. Not only that, they went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Colts should have learned a valuable lesson here. Momentum is something you do not play around with. As we said last week, throw out past records and pay attention to recent intangibles when it comes to the playoffs. The Colts lost the momentum they created in the 2005 regular season and could not get it all the way back. The fast start by the Steelers was their key to victory and it forced Manning to abandon his play action.
The Colts had just 14 rushing attempts in the game yet averaged 29 rushes during the 2005 regular season. The Steelers took advantage of that and pulled out a victory.
Can the Ravens do the same Saturday night?
It appears that Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian have paid little attention to their plight in the 2005 playoffs by the way they handled the end of their 2009 regular season.
Will the Ravens be able to take advantage of what seems to be a similar situation and pull off another road upset in the AFC playoffs?
We will find out soon enough…