Just for kicks, Colts take out Baltimore
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BALTIMORE -- Peyton Manning couldn't get Indianapolis into the end zone and, for once, it didn't matter.
That's because Adam Vinatieri provided the Colts with all the offense they needed to advance to the AFC championship.
Signed in the offseason specifically for his playoff experience, Vinatieri kicked five field goals yesterday to put his name in the NFL record book and carry Indianapolis past the Baltimore Ravens, 15-6.
"Adam's been exceptional all year," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "You just feel like you're going to make it every time when he goes out there. In games like this, it's necessary."
Although unspectacular, Manning was efficient enough to make up for some of his previous playoff failures and keep alive his hope of playing in the Super Bowl for the first time. All he needed to do was get the Colts close enough for Vinatieri, who did the rest.
"I'm not sure if we ever won one before in the nine years I've played here without scoring a touchdown. My guess is no," Manning said. "You want to get touchdowns and it was frustrating to have to settle for field goals. But we saw how our defense was playing early, and we thought field goals would be enough -- if we got enough of them."
It was only the fourth playoff game in NFL history -- and first since 1979 -- that neither team scored a touchdown.
Vinatieri won two Super Bowls with late field goals and scored 117 points in the postseason for New England. He was signed by Indianapolis as a free agent to replace Mike Vanderjagt, who missed a 46-yard field goal with 17 seconds left last season in the Colts' 21-18 playoff loss to the Steelers.
Vinatieri justified the acquisition with a flawless performance against the Ravens, connecting on field-goal tries of 23, 42, 51, 48 and 35 yards. The fourth kick gave him an NFL-record 33 career postseason field goals.
"Baltimore is the No. 1 defense in the league. Points are at a premium with them," Vinatieri said. "It's hard to score on those guys. The way our defense played -- they stepped up and kept them out of the end zone the whole time -- sometimes you win like that."
Indianapolis (14-4) never trailed in eliminating the No. 2-seeded Ravens (13-4), who were coming off a first-round bye and poised to extract a measure of revenge against the franchise that broke the hearts of Baltimore fans by sneaking out of the city to Indianapolis in March 1984.
"This football team is as disappointed as our fans are," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "[The fans] were deserving of better than that, but it just wasn't going to happen and we will move forward now."
Not until next year. The third-seeded Colts, however, will next face the winner of the game today between San Diego and New England. If the Patriots win, the game will be in Indianapolis.
Vinatieri, who kicked three field goals last week against Kansas City, broke the mark of 32 held by Gary Anderson. The record-setting kick came with 10:57 left in the third quarter and put the Colts ahead, 12-3.
That was enough support for a defense that during the regular season finished last against the run. The Colts didn't allow a touchdown, held Jamal Lewis to 53 yards rushing and also forced four turnovers -- intercepting Steve McNair twice and recovering two fumbles.
Like Vinatieri, McNair was obtained during the offseason because of his success in the playoffs. With McNair leading the way, the Ravens finished with nine wins in 10 games for the best regular-season record in franchise history.
But he went 18 of 29 for only 173 yards, and Baltimore managed only two field goals by Matt Stover in its first playoff game since 2003.
Manning finished 15 of 30 for 170 yards. The victory improved his career playoff record to 5-6.
Baltimore fans were looking forward to this game since the Colts advanced with a 23-8 win against Kansas City last week. Many in Baltimore have never really gotten over the Colts' move to Indianapolis nearly 23 years ago, and those emotions came to the forefront yesterday.
The record crowd of 71,162 did all it could to hinder Manning's calls at the line, but he appeared undaunted by the noise from the outset. After the Ravens went three-and-out on their first possession, Manning put together an 11-play drive that produced a field goal.
The volume of the crowd dimmed even further during the ensuing drive, when Ravens tight end Todd Heap lost a fumble at the Baltimore 31 after being hit by Colts cornerback Nick Harper.
First Published January 14, 2007 12:00 am