BALTIMORE (AP)—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 game.
Signed during the offseason specifically for his playoff experience, Vinatieri kicked five field goals Saturday 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 Pittsburgh.
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, which is matched tenfold by the players,” 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 Sunday’s game 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.
“You can’t turn the ball over in a championship-style game,” Billick said. “That’s an awful lot to overcome.”
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 over 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 Saturday.
In a tribute to former Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas, who wore No. 19, someone in the lower deck unfurled a sign that read: “19 WILL ALWAYS BE BETTER THAN 18,” the number worn by Manning.
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. Referees ruled Heap down, reversed the call after Dungy challenged the call, and Vinatieri followed with a field goal for a 6-0 lead.
Baltimore halved the deficit with a 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Ed Reed then picked off a pass by Manning, and the Ravens moved to the Indianapolis 5 before Antoine Bethea intercepted McNair’s third-down throw at the 1.
It was the closest Baltimore would get to scoring a touchdown.
The Colts then held the ball for six minutes before Vinatieri kicked a 51-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced through.
“I don’t want to say I missed it. I just didn’t hit it as good as I could,” Vinatieri said. “Thank goodness it was just long enough.”
The Colts ended a four-game road losing streak. … Baltimore was 42-14 at home since the start of the 2000 season. … Vinatieri’s five field goals tied an NFL postseason record, shared by seven players, including himself—he kicked five against Indianapolis in 2003. … Vinatieri tied George Blanda’s record by scoring in his 19th consecutive playoff game.