INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Tony Dungy tried to do things his normal way Sunday.
But when Mike Doss handed him the ball with 13 seconds left, even the Indianapolis Colts’ coach couldn’t resist the temptation to respond. In a rare emotional outburst, he grabbed the ball, raised it in his right hand and pumped it toward the crowd, which roared in approval.
Who could blame him?
Five days after burying his oldest son, 18-year-old James, Dungy watched Jim Sorgi throw two touchdown passes and got the goal line stand he needed—thanks to a replay reversal—in the final seconds to give the Colts a 17-13 victory over Arizona.
“I know those guys wanted to win the game for me and wanted to do it for a lot of reasons,” Dungy said. “But I think they wanted to win it for me, and they came up with the effort to do it. It was special.”
Indy (14-2) set a franchise record for victories and avoided its first three-game losing streak since midway through the 2002 season.
The stats, however, paled in comparison to Dungy’s perseverance during a time football understandably became secondary.
After a tortuous 10 days in which he learned his son died of an apparent suicide and then gave a moving eulogy at Tuesday’s funeral, Dungy made a surprise return to practice Thursday.
On Sunday, many of the fans showed up for an otherwise meaningless game— Indy had already clinched the AFC’s top seed and Arizona (5-11) was already eliminated from the playoffs—came to show their support for Dungy.
Before the game, the Colts had a moment of silence in honor of James Dungy, who was found unresponsive Dec. 22 in his Tampa-area apartment. The Colts coach spent pregame warmups shaking hands and walking around the field with his other teenage son, Eric, who retrieved kicking tees during the game.
When Dungy walked onto the field, he received a standing ovation and waved to the crowd. For much of the game, he was his usual self—hands folded, pacing stoically along the sideline.
And then, with a little help from official Ron Winter, the Colts found a way to give Dungy a brief respite by stopping the Cardinals three times from the Colts 2 in the game’s final two minutes.
“It made me feel good because we really try and play hard for coach Dungy, everyone loves him,” said defensive tackle Larry Tripplett.
Again for the Colts, the game had a preseason feel.
Three Pro Bowl players—running back Edgerrin James, linebacker Cato June and safety Bob Sanders—were deactivated. Two-time MVP Peyton Manning played one series and receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were in for only two. Dwight Freeney played sparingly, and nearly half of Indy’s starting defense sat out the entire game.
Yet Arizona’s regulars couldn’t even muster enough offense to beat the Colts’ backups.
Josh McCown, possibly in his final game as a Cardinal, completed 31 of 42 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown. But he couldn’t get in on fourth-and-goal from the Indy 1 in the final minute. Officials ruled it a touchdown, then reversed the call, changing it to a fumble that backup linebacker Rob Morris recovered to seal the game.
Arizona coach Dennis Green, a longtime friend of Dungy’s, said the reversal was the right call and even McCown seemed content with it given the circumstances.
“I thought I pushed in and I crossed,” McCown said. “I thought where the ball was, in my arm, it was very minute. After all the Dungys and all the people in the Colts organization have gone through, it’s not something I’m very bitter about at all.”
Anquan Boldin caught eight passes and Larry Fitzgerald six to each top 100 receptions and become the first duo of 100-reception receivers on the same team since Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey on the 2000 Denver Broncos. The 1995 Detroit Lions are the only other team to achieve that feat, with Herman Moore and Brett Perriman.
Still, the Cardinals came up short.
Sorgi threw a 14-yard TD pass to Ben Utecht in the first quarter, an 18-yard TD to Troy Walters in the third quarter, and Mike Vanderjagt connected on a 44-yard field goal. Sorgi was 21-of-31 for 207 yards.
All the Cardinals could manage were Rackers’ two field goals, McCown’s 25-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald and some heartfelt empathy for Dungy.
“Everybody feels the support for Tony Dungy is clear-cut. It’s clear-cut in Indianapolis, it’s clear-cut throughout the National Football League,” Green said. “He’s a very optimistic, a very faith-based man in how he goes about living his life.”
Vanderjagt’s five points gave him 995 in his career. … Despite playing one series, Manning gets credit for the victory and has now beaten every NFL team except Carolina. … Boldin and Fitzgerald also topped 1,400 yards. … The Cardinals set a franchise record with 4,450 yards passing this season.