Colts are NFL champions

  • Article by: On The Game Kevin Seifert
  • Star Tribune
  • February 5, 2007 - 11:47 AM


Colts followed Bears script in pulling victory together C4


Soggy weather also caused glitches in coverage by CBS C6

MIAMI - Rain fell Sunday from the unpredictable South Florida skies, generating the first foul-weather championship game in modern NFL history. Pigskin transformed into oil, hands seemed coated with Vaseline and empty seats popped up at all corners of Dolphin Stadium.

A sloppy Super Bowl XLI ended with a predictable meltdown by Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman, allowing the Indianapolis Colts to win their first championship since the franchise left Baltimore in 1984. The Colts took a 29-17 victory in a game that featured eight turnovers, including five by the Bears on a night marred by the rain.

"We kept our cool out there," said Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, the ex-Gophers quarterback and former Vikings assistant who became the first black coach to win the Super Bowl.

While quarterback Peyton Manning (247 yards, one touchdown) accepted MVP honors, the Colts won because their defense recovered five turnovers and their running game was strong. Running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for 264 yards of offense.

"We had to run the ball and play defense to win on a day like this," Dungy said. "We were able to win a game against a team that wants to do that themselves. To beat them at their game is something special."

Indeed, the Bears grabbed an early lead on Devin Hester's 92-yard return of the opening kickoff and led 14-6 at the end of the first quarter; tailback Thomas Jones' 52-yard run set up Grossman's 4-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad.

The Bears did not give themselves a chance thereafter, and the Colts sealed the game by intercepting Grossman on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter.

"When you turn the ball over as much as we did, it's really hard to win," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We got off to a great start, but the turnovers really did us in."

Robbie Gould's field goal pulled the Bears to 22-17 with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter. But Grossman, whose inconsistency in pressure situations was the major point of discussion here last week, threw interceptions to Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety Bob Sanders in a span of less than two minutes.

Hayden, stepping underneath a lazily thrown pass, returned his interception 56 yards for a touchdown. Overall, Grossman committed three turnovers and narrowly avoided a fourth by recovering one of his own fumbles.

"It was slippery out there," Grossman said. "When the ball was snapped from center, it would kind of slide off my hands. ... All I feel is disappointment because I know how good of a football team we are."

The Bears were the NFC's top-seeded team, and Sunday's weather forecast seemed to fall in their favor. Indianapolis played 11 games indoors this season, including two of their three previous postseason games. Manning's complex offense did not seem ideal for a steady rain that began Sunday morning.

Manning seemed to prove that when he threw an interception on his first possession, and the only person who put on a flawless performance was Prince. Wearing a bandanna to protect his coif, the Minneapolis artist electrified what remained of the crowd with a halftime set that predictably finished with "Purple Rain."

Officials announced the attendance at 74,512, but there appeared to be several thousand no-shows as at least some fans decided against a $600 shower. What did they miss?

Most notably, they didn't see Manning transform his explosive offense into a clock-eater. The Colts held the ball for 38:04, mostly by throwing short passes to Addai and tight end Dallas Clark, who combined for 14 catches. The approach smartly attacked the soft spot of the Bears' Cover-2 defense.

"One of the weaknesses of a Cover-2 defense is the checkdowns," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He threw a lot of them today."

In the process, Manning and the Colts capped a steady climb that had included trips to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. They were knocked from the playoffs each time by the eventual Super Bowl champions, but this season the Colts were the last team standing.

How to measure the progress? The last time Indianapolis played a foul-weather playoff game, it lost 24-14 at New England.

"In years past when our team has come up short, it's been disappointing," Manning said. "Somehow we found a way to learn from some of those losses, and we've been a better team because of it."

Rain or shine.

Kevin Seifert •

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