In Indy, it hurts so good

Defending champs remain among elite despite key injuries

The Colts' season

December 06, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

INDIANAPOLIS -- They lost a former Pro Bowl linebacker and two starting cornerbacks to free agency after winning the Super Bowl. Their Pro Bowl offensive tackle retired right before training camp. Injuries have sidelined several others, including their All-Pro defensive end and wide receiver.

Unlike the team they will play Sunday night, the Indianapolis Colts have remained among the NFL's elite.

While the Ravens certainly will point more to the injuries of a number of former Pro Bowl and All-Pro players than the loss of linebacker Adalius Thomas to free agency for their rapid decline from a 13-3 playoff team to a huge disappointment, the Colts keep plugging the holes.

The difference between the 10-2 Colts and the 4-8 Ravens they will face at M&T Bank Stadium might be as simple as their respective quarterbacks, but Peyton Manning said the reason for his team's success has more to do with the players who have stepped in for those who left or those who have been hurt.

"They have worked hard to get themselves ready to play. The veteran players have done a good job helping those guys," Manning said before practice yesterday. "It's never something you want to get used to, as far as dealing with the injuries, but we have dealt with it all season and we're still dealing with it."

Not that the Colts haven't missed linebacker Cato June, given the relative inexperience of the rotation of players who have replaced him. Not that Manning, considering the uncharacteristic stretch in which he has gotten sacked 12 times in the past seven games, wouldn't love to still have Tarik Glenn protecting his blind side.

Or that the pass rush has been the same since Dwight Freeney went down for the season four games ago and the pass offense has been as productive with Marvin Harrison hampered by a knee injury. With a bunch of replacements - journeymen such as linebacker Rocky Boiman as well as rookies like offensive tackle Tony Ugoh and linebacker Clint Session - the Colts still have the second-best record in the AFC.

"I think the main thing is preparation. Coach [Tony] Dungy and the rest of the coaching staff, they always said, `If a team is going to be great or a team is going to be just average, it's the way a team overcomes adversity,'" said Session, a fourth-round draft pick.

The Colts have navigated potential problems from the start of the regular season.

In their opener against the New Orleans Saints, running back Joseph Addai suffered a bruised chest on the team's first play from scrimmage. As he lay on the field at the RCA Dome for a few minutes, many wondered if the Colts had made a mistake letting Dominic Rhodes leave for the Oakland Raiders in the offseason.

Then Kenton Keith, who had played the previous four years in the Canadian Football League, rushed for 7 yards on the next play.

When Addai sat out because of an injury four weeks later against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Keith rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. In only his second start, Session had two interceptions in a loss at San Diego on Nov. 11.

"That's what I'm here for. That's what I'm expected to do: make some plays," Session said.

Others have, too.

Rookie wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the team's No. 1 draft choice, isn't drawing comparisons to Harrison, but he has had some big games, catching six passes for 105 yards in a Thanksgiving night win over the Atlanta Falcons, and seven for 71 yards against the Buccaneers.

Ed Johnson, an undrafted rookie, has started every game at defensive tackle since Anthony McFarland was lost for the season in training camp with a knee injury. Michael Toudouze went from the practice squad to playing extensively on the offensive line in two of the past four games.

It has made for one of the best coaching jobs in Dungy's career, and one of his most gratifying.

"It's been satisfying in a lot of ways," Dungy said. "A lot of people talk about the post-Super Bowl letdown or what's going to happen, everybody's gunning for you, that type of thing. From the minute we came back to work, our guys were very focused on doing what we always do, and trying to get the same results.

"We've had a lot of young guys come through for us and that's always satisfying, to see those guys develop. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a great team to coach."

don.markus@baltsun.com

COMPARING THE 2007 RAVENS AND COLTS

KEY PLAYERS LOST TO FREE AGENCY

Ravens

LB Adalius Thomas

FB Ovie Mughelli

Colts

LB Cato June

CB Nick Harper

CB Jason David

KEY ADDITIONS Ravens

RB Willis McGahee

Colts

DT Ed Johnson

KEY INJURIES THIS SEASON

Ravens

QB Steve McNair Put on injured reserve this week with shoulder injury.

OT Jonathan Ogden Missed first five games with foot and toe injuries.

TE Todd Heap Missed seven of past eight games with hamstring injury.

CB Chris McAlister Missed four games with knee injury.

DE Trevor Pryce Missed five games with broken wrist; placed on injured reserve Nov. 22 with torn pectoral muscle.

CB Samari Rolle Missed six games while being treated for epilepsy.

Colts

DT Anthony McFarland Out since training camp with knee injury.

WR Marvin Harrison Missed seven games with knee injury.

DE Dwight Freeney Put on injured reserve Nov. 14 with foot injury.

OT Tony Ugoh Missed five games with neck injury.

LB Freddy Keiaho Missed five games with various injuries.

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