Horseshoe is on other foot

Times Staff Writer

As expected, a vaunted defense made the difference here Saturday in the AFC playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts recovered two fumbles, intercepted two passes, gave up only 83 yards rushing and 161 passing and did not give up a touchdown in their 15-6 win.

The Colts?

Yes, this was supposed to be the other way around. The mean, nasty, angry defense of the Baltimore Ravens, ranked No. 1 in the NFL and spurred on to punish and pillage by a city seeking revenge and closure for the Colts' being whisked away in Mayflower moving vans from them to Indianapolis in 1984, was supposed to carry the day.

The buildup to this first-ever old-Baltimore-versus-new-Baltimore playoff game, in this city that refuses to forget and never will forgive, held that linebacker Ray Lewis and the Ravens' defense would take no prisoners. A crowd of 71,162, a record for a football game in Baltimore, showed up to see just that.

Instead, while keeping the Colts out of the end zone in a game without a touchdown, it allowed the golden toe of veteran Adam Vinatieri to deliver yet another Indianapolis indignity to Baltimore. The last of Vinatieri's five field goals, from 35 yards with 23 seconds left, was the clinching score. It was also a kick delivered to a team and a city that is down now. Way down.

Ravens Coach Brian Billick could only state the obvious.

"I'm disappointed for the fans," he said. "... They were deserving of better than that."

In general, so were fans watching at home. As NFL playoff games go, this one left an odor. The defenses were great -- Baltimore gave up only 261 yards -- but entertainment value is usually found in exciting plays and touchdowns. The Colts' longest play was 27 yards; the Ravens' longest was 23.

Colts Coach Tony Dungy said that this kind of game was what he expected and that he wasn't disappointed when his team failed to get into the end zone.

"I was happy we were getting field goals," he said. "I knew it was going to be like this. It was going to be a day of hunt and peck on the typewriter."

He said he'd talked all week to his team about the likely game of "buck ball." He defined that as scoring few points but still winning."

Quarterback Peyton Manning, an offensive machine in his nine seasons with the Colts, said he hadn't slept well all week, thinking about the Ravens' defense, and added, "They were as good as advertised."

Even after his most crucial and successful moment, a 14-yard pass on third and five to Dallas Clark at the Baltimore 45 with just under four minutes left and the Ravens down to one timeout, Manning sounded in awe of the defense he had faced all day.

"On that third-down conversion to Dallas," he said, "Corey Ivy could not have had better coverage."

Five Dominic Rhodes runs and one Manning kneel-down later, Vinatieri came out to apply the finishing touch to the Ravens, as well as Baltimore's civic pride. The five field goals, in five tries, gave Vinatieri 34 in NFL postseason play, two better than the record held by Gary Anderson. Vinatieri, 34, signed on with the Colts in March as a free agent after a 10-year career with the New England Patriots that was highlighted by two Super Bowl-winning kicks, in 2002 and 2004.

His 51-yarder in the second quarter Saturday, for a 9-3 lead, hit the crossbar and went over.

"Guess I hit that one just enough," he said.

Baltimore's best scoring shot was early in the second quarter, from the Colts' four-yard line. But quarterback Steve McNair threw the ball into a crowd at the goal line, Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea intercepted, and the Ravens never got that close again.

Afterward, there seemed to be an equal sense of joy and relief on the part of the Colts, who will play the AFC title game either against the Chargers in San Diego or at home against the Patriots, depending on the result of today's game in San Diego.

Clearly, the Baltimore civic barrage unleashed against the visiting Colts this week had gotten their attention.

"There were lots of middle fingers raised in our direction on the bus ride in," Manning said.

Linebacker Cato June was even more emphatic, although in a joking way. As he ran past the media and into the Colts' locker room, he yelled out, "Where are the Mayflowers? Let's get out of here."


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World