Posted: Saturday January 13, 2007 10:25PM; Updated: Saturday January 13, 2007 11:45PM
Baltimore fans didn't exactly welcome back their former team on Saturday.
James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
There is such hatred for the Colts and the Irsay family -- late owner Bob Irsay moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis in the middle of the night 23 years ago, and son Jimmy Irsay now owns the team -- that when the four team buses arrived in downtown Baltimore Friday at 4 p.m., they took a circuitous route away from the glare of the minicams at the Renaissance Hotel and entered the hotel underground. "Like a presidential motorcade,'' said one hotel employee. "They don't want to be seen by anyone.'' A man with a white Peyton Manning jersey walked downtown Friday afternoon near Camden Yards, and a patron in Legal Sea Foods ducked his head out of the restaurant and yelled: "Hey Manning! BOOOOOOOOO!'' A cabbie ferrying a writer from the train station to his downtown hotel Friday said: "Everyone in the city has one thing in common this weekend: We hate the Colts more than anything in the world.''
The crowd brought that angry intensity to the stadium on a March-like 62-degree, overcast afternoon. A sign in the upper deck read: "Colts Died 3/29/84. Today We Bury Them.'' If only it were so easy.
"This thing kind of needs to move on,'' Manning said after the game, meaning the anger of the Baltimore fans. It doesn't seem to have dissipated since 1984. "I mean, I was 8 years old then. I had nothing to do with it. There were a lot of middle fingers raised at our bus on the way to the stadium today. I wouldn't hold this against the players. I would hold it against the owner, and he's not here anymore.''
Manning's words aren't going to quell the fire. And guess what? The Colts will play a game in Baltimore for the third straight year in 2007.
Manning drove the Colts 49 yards in 11 plays on the first Colts possession of the game, culminating in a Vinatieri field goal. When Baltimore tight end Todd Heap fumbled on the ensuing possession, the Colts recovered at the Ravens 31. Two minutes later, Vinatieri's second kick made it 6-0. Ravens' kicker Matt Stover and Vinatieri both made kicks in the second quarter, but Vinatieri's was a momentum-turner, in many ways. First, the drive to the third field goal started when McNair tried to thread a needle between two Colt defenders to Heap in the end zone and the dumb throw was intercepted by Antoine Bethea at the 1. "You just can't do that,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick understated. "We could have changed the temperament of the game and didn't.''
Manning took the Colts 65 yards in 13 plays to the Baltimore 34 before Vinatieri attempted his 51-yarder.
"I scuffed the ground,'' Vinatieri said, "and didn't hit it that good. But it just kept going.''
The ball doinked off the crossbar and skidded through. At the half, it was 9-3. But the second half didn't change much for the Ravens. All season, McNair's been making plays when the Ravens needed them, but he converted zero of five third-down conversion attempts in the first half, and all he could manage was one lousy field goal drive in the second half.
Credit the Colts' defense for playing its second straight strong playoff game, allowing just 244 yards and stopping nine of 11 third-down conversion tries. In its last eight quarters, the Indianapolis defense has gone from a major liability to a reputable unit. Whoever the Colts play for the championship, this is no papier-mache defense to go along with the Colts' great offense.
"We know what kind of team we have," said Bethea, "and we'll be ready.''