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Playing to win

Game-by-game look at wild cards; divisional picks

Posted: Monday January 8, 2007 4:55PM; Updated: Monday January 8, 2007 5:03PM
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Joseph Addai will need Peyton Manning to avoid the Ravens blitzes Saturday if he and the Colts hope to reach the AFC title game.
Joseph Addai will need Peyton Manning to avoid the Ravens blitzes Saturday if he and the Colts hope to reach the AFC title game.
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You want to play not to lose? Fine, just don't do it in the playoffs. Two teams, the Chiefs and Cowboys, crafted their attack that way and ... uh, lost. They'll have an entire offseason to think about establishing their offenses for next season. Following are my summaries of last weekend's wild-card action, plus a look ahead to the divisionals:

Chiefs at Colts

WHAT I SAW -- K.C. was up at bat first. The Colts crowded eight into the box. Their defense had been fortified by the use of a middle linebacker, Rob Morris, playing outside, to give it more muscle. The eighth man they brought up was not a safety, as is usually the case, but a cornerback. They had him pinching hard to the inside. Hell, everybody was pinching. Call the vice squad. If Larry Johnson was going to run inside, somebody'd better use dynamite to make a hole.

The Chiefs, who believe in sticking to their philosophy, no matter what the opponents show, ran Johnson into the heart of that defense, that pinching menagerie. No gain. Then they tried it again. Two yards. Then they threw a five yard hook to Eddie Kennison, which was dropped. They had established their offense.

Tony Gonzalez was used as a blocker, which you'd do, too, if you had a pair of offensive tackles such as the Chiefs' pair. Then they decided that maybe Tony ought to catch a pass or two. That left Dwight Freeney singled up on LT Jordan Black, who is one of those linemen I abbreviate to WGSK, standing for "Will get someone killed." Mothers shielded their children's eyes. The result was a quick sack and a fumble.

Trent Green completed two of eight in the first half, a four-yard hitch to Gonzalez and a minus-two to Johnson. The quarterback's game had gone south sometime in the last month or so, and he looked finished, kaput. The KC defense was performing nobly, intercepting Peyton Manning twice in the half, stopping the Colts on the one-yard line. At 9-0 the game was not yet out of reach, and at halftime Herman Edwards was asked if he were going to bring in Damon Huard for Green.

He regarded this as an insult. No, he said, we're sticking with Trent all the way. In the background I could hear the ship's crew singing Nearer My God to Thee, as the Titanic sank beneath the waves. Goodbye, Chiefs. Nice knowing ya.

WHAT'S AHEAD -- This leaves Manning and his three interceptions and Joseph Addai, and his fine running that bailed out an erratic offense, to face the bloodthirsty Ravens in Baltimore. I saw their games against Manning last year and the year before. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, like his father before him, hates fancy quarterbacks. He wants to make them cry.

So in both games he threw the most ungodly assortment of blitzes at Peyton that he'd ever encountered. Now I have seen Manning have games that were nearly perfect, statistically, but I thought that for sheer courage, these were two of his greatest. He stood in there boldly and faced the horns of the beast and found his hot reads, time and again. And Indy won both contests and he was not sacked.

Will this be No. 3? Well, there seemed to be something definitely off in his game last Saturday. Can it be fine tuned? I think so. Will the Colts' pinching defense, with its big boy linebackers, be able to control Steve McNair and Jamal Lewis the way it did the Chiefs? No, but I think Indy will outscore them. An interesting sidebar is Freeney against Pro Bowl LT Jonathan Ogden, whom he routed two years ago, first indicating that all was not right with the big tackle.

Colts 31, Ravens 27

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