Anything but 'Super'

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

DENVER – The NFL's marquee matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos had a decidedly different feel to it Sunday.

The Colts' 34-31 win was great fun, in all the ways that make the NBA All-Star game a joy to watch. It was fast and furious, as the teams combined for more than 800 yards of offense.

It was exciting as Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal with two seconds remaining decided the outcome, adding another big kick to his lengthy résumé.

Finally, there was absolutely no defense to be had.

Indianapolis and Denver combined to score on 12 of 17 possessions, including all five series in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Colts essentially scored on seven straight possessions (a kneel-down just before halftime was the lone exception).

Indy's passing game (quarterback Peyton Manning threw for 345 yards and wide receiver Reggie Wayne had 138 yards and three touchdowns) went arm-to-leg with the Broncos' running game (227 yards rushing, including 136 from backup running back Mike Bell).

"That was some pretty amazing stuff to watch at both ends, especially if you like offense," said Wayne, who also scored a critical two-point conversion after his third touchdown. "I'm just glad we came out of this with the win because it looked like whoever had it last was going to take it."

Which may be why this is the type of game that shows little really has changed about either team this year.

And in a league where defense is a more consistent measure of a Super Bowl contender's chances, this contest is hardly worth using as a barometer.

The Colts are 7-0 even though they have trouble stopping the run.

Denver, which entered the contest having allowed only two touchdowns all season, still can't stop Manning when it counts, even with a secondary built for that purpose.

Understandably, there was a reason both coaches could discuss the great drama this game provided yet seem a bit chagrined by what they saw.

"I thought eventually that we would stop them," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, who watched his defense get gashed for 180 yards rushing in the second half alone. "We just didn't adjust well. … They made some really good adjustments, but it would have been nice to stop them and not have those last two drives."

The worst part for Dungy is that the gashing was done by just about any back on the Denver roster. Mike Bell, an undrafted rookie, came in for banged-up starter Tatum Bell, who was suffering with turf toe. If that wasn't bad enough, fullback Cecil Sapp turned two dive plays into 39 yards.

Of course, Denver coach Mike Shanahan didn't have a much better situation.

Denver played very soft coverage all game long, leaving strong safety John Lynch back in coverage most of the game. The Broncos rarely blitzed, preferring to play to the speed of their defense.

But where that style has worked all season for Denver, it was picked apart by Manning. He completed 32 of 39 passes, including nine of his last 10 throws on Indianapolis' final two drives.

"He was just amazing at picking us apart," Lynch said. "We've been playing this way all season and I'm comfortable with it, but he's just special."

True, but this has been pretty standard for Manning against the Broncos, particularly when it counts. In two playoff wins after the 2003 and 2004 season, Manning combined to throw nine touchdown passes and only one interception against Denver.

Sunday merely was a continuation of that trend even though Denver had rebuilt its secondary. After the 2003 season, Denver traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and used three high draft picks on cornerbacks the following year.

While Bailey did his job Sunday, limiting Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison to five catches for 38 yards, the rest of the Denver secondary was useless.

Darrent Williams, who was on the other side with Wayne, had his troubles. Whether Wayne was running comeback routes, slants or fades, Williams had no answers.

Furthermore, the Colts did a good job of making sure Williams had little help by putting tight end Dallas Clark in the slot and forcing Denver to account for him.

It was great strategy, great fun and great theater.

It just may not be the kind of stuff that leads to a title – for either team.

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