Past playoff failures still haunt Colts, Broncos

Coaches, Manning look to end postseason skids

January 04, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The RCA Dome in Indianapolis is no place for the squeamish today.

Two head coaches and one quarterback bring onerous baggage to the AFC wild-card game between the third-seeded Indianapolis Colts and sixth-seeded Denver Broncos. In all three cases, the baggage carries ghosts of playoffs past.

For Colts coach Tony Dungy, it is a personal, four-game postseason losing streak that extends to his previous job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, it is an 0-3 playoff record that belies his status of one of the NFL's best players.

And for Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, the burden is his failure to win a playoff game in the post-John Elway era in Denver, a span of four years.

Saddle up the psychological hardware because this could be a bumpy ride for today's loser.

"It's the Colts as a team, we haven't done well," Manning said at a news conference last week. "For us to do it this time, we need to play better. For us to win, I need to do my job well, at a high level. [The playoff record is] just a fact; I don't hide from it. It is something I certainly would like to change."

Manning, the NFL's co-Most Valuable Player with Tennessee's Steve McNair this season, has lost to the Titans by three points, the Miami Dolphins in overtime and the New York Jets by 41 in three previous postseason appearances.

But it was a two-touchdown loss to the Broncos at home two weeks ago that most haunts a 12-4 Colts team that won the AFC South.

The Broncos (10-6) controlled the clock in dramatic fashion, posting a staggering edge in time of possession, 44:58 to 15:02. They ran the ball 54 times for 227 yards and limited the dangerous Colts' offense to 37 plays and 183 total yards. The game was not as close as the final score (31-17) would indicate.

More shockingly, the Broncos did the damage with their third running back. Scatback Quentin Griffin, playing for injured Clinton Portis, rushed for 136 yards on the RCA Dome's artificial surface. Portis returns today after a two-week hiatus on the inactive list, his high ankle sprain healed.

"They have a great running attack," said Dungy, whose teams have been outscored a combined 93-12 in his past three playoff games. "They've been that way for a number of years.

"We've just got to come up with some things where we tackle a little bit better, [where] we knock them back a little bit more. We've got to play a little bit sharper, but the other thing we didn't do, we didn't stop the third-down conversions. We didn't stop them in the red zone."

In the aftermath of that game, the Broncos suggested their defensive scheme had confused Manning with deceptive alignments. In his news conference, Shanahan said he doesn't expect to control the ball this time the way the Broncos did the last time. But he said they must find a way to keep Manning off balance.

"Any time you go against a quarterback that is extremely bright," Shanahan said, "you can't always let him know what you are going to do. ...

"It comes down to players making plays. Will there be a little confusion? Sure, there is always a little confusion on both sides of the football. But a great player usually figures that out in a quarter, and then it's players getting the job done on both sides of the football."

When Shanahan had Elway, Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. But the Broncos have made only one playoff appearance since then, and it ended with a 21-3, first-round loss to the Ravens in the 2000 season.

"It is not because John is not here," Shanahan said of the drought. "There were guys named Terrell Davis, [Gary] Zimmerman, Steve Atwater, Howard Griffith - a bunch of players that were a part of those championships. So, yes, we have some high expectations, and anytime you fall short of those expectations, it is disappointing."

The player who could end the victory drought for Denver is Jake Plummer, an elusive quarterback who went 9-2 in 11 starts after signing with the Broncos in the offseason.

"He's really helped [the Broncos] and I think he's given them the quarterback that is probably the most like John [Elway] since John hasn't been there," Dungy said.

Reputations will be on the line today.

"Postseason is big," Plummer said. "They always talk about Dan Marino as being one of the best ever and never won a Super Bowl. That is what they will always continue to say about him. The postseason defines us."

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