BALTIMORE – The Tony Dungy Retro Tour continued Saturday.
Of course, Dungy's idea of football music features clangs and thumps of the hard-hitting defense he ran in Tampa Bay; not the symphonic offense he has become associated with since joining the Indianapolis Colts.
Somehow, Dungy and the Colts have changed their tune this postseason faster than Britney Spears hit the clubs after turning K-Fed into Fed-ex. Indianapolis beat Baltimore 15-6 at M&T Bank Stadium in the divisional playoffs to advance to next weekend's AFC championship game against the winner of Sunday's New England-San Diego game.
It was a game only a kicker's mother would appreciate as Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri and Baltimore's Matt Stover combined for seven field goals – all of the scoring. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning of Indianapolis and Steve McNair of Baltimore were virtually useless, including two more interceptions for Manning and two other passes that easily could have been picked.
But it continued a stunning turnabout for the Colts' defense, which entered the postseason as a laughingstock and now looks like Dungy's old Buccaneers. For the second straight game, the Colts held an opponent to fewer than 10 points. Indianapolis hadn't done that in any one game all season and never in seven playoff games under Dungy before this season.
"It's funny. I was talking to [defensive tackle Anthony] 'Booger' McFarland about how this was like the old days, when we were playing Buc Ball," said Dungy, whose defense has allowed 127 yards combined in two postseason games. "We talked about it all week, that it would be the type of game like it was.
"We came in here last year and it was a dogfight. Our defense: we challenged them all week that they would have to keep it close until we could figure it out."
McFarland, who played for Dungy in Tampa Bay and was acquired via trade in October, was more succinct.
"It was ugly," he said. "But it was a win."
"They've calmed us down a lot … We're not as frenzied as we were," Dungy said, referring to particularly ugly defensive performances against Denver and Jacksonville.
OK, but this is a staggering difference. Just over a month ago, the Colts gave up 375 yards on 42 carries to Jacksonville.
"We've got guys who are just worried about doing their assignment and not looking around at other guys or thinking about what went wrong on that last play," Dungy said.
Instead, the guy who was looking around in confusion was Manning, who now has five interceptions in the playoffs. The Colts' offense never figured out a thing. It took advantage of a couple of first-half turnovers to get a 9-3 lead and then expanded it with a couple of no-frills drives in the second half.
More to the point, Manning, who often looks like a conductor as he directs the Colts' offense, looked more like the leader of a garage band struggling to learn "Gloria" by Them. Manning, who was 15-of-30 passing for 170 yards, threw passes to well-covered receivers and struggled to get rid of the ball on time. He was often a jittery mess and got progressively worse, throwing one pass to his right as he rolled left.
Manning gave plenty of credit to the Ravens, who came in with the NFL's top-ranked defense.
"They're every bit as good as advertised on defense," Manning said. "I didn't sleep real well all week. They're a team [that] the more you watch, you don't really feel a whole lot better after you watch a game than you did before because they do so many different things."
Still, the Colts were able to survive Manning's off day with their defense. Afterward, it was Morris, a man who dabbles in classical music such as Mozart and Rachmaninoff for pre-game inspiration, explained the quick progression of the Indy defense.
"I think the communication among the linebackers and throughout the defense has been a lot smoother for us," said Morris, who was second on the team with seven tackles. "I know what the other linebackers are supposed to be doing and so we all communicate really well."
In other words, the group is working in concert.
- Tony Dungy