Both Defenses Stand Tall in Colts Victory

As expected, the Ravens defense challenged the Colts offense throughout the evening in Baltimore. But less expected was the dominant Colts defense that kept the Ravens off the board until just 13 seconds were left in the game to secure a 24-7 win for Indianapolis.

One of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NFL met a stout and steadfast defense in Baltimore. And they battled to a virtual stalemate for the first 20 minutes with the Colts leading by a slim margin of 3-0 at the half.

But perhaps more impressive in the first half than the battle that raged between the Colts offense and the Ravens defense was the performance by the Colts defensive unit. They shut out Jamal Lewis and the Ravens' tall receivers through the first 30 minutes of play. 

And it didn't stop there. 

The Colts defense grabbed four turnovers and posted three sacks en route to what appeared to be their first shutout since 1997 until the Ravens tallied an otherwise meaningless touchdown with 13 seconds left to play. 

Earlier this week, Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said, "We want to show our defense is going to be better." 

Boy, did they.

Dwight Freeney extended his edge over offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden in a matchup heralded all week by the media as he pushed, spun, and hustled his way repeatedly into the Ravens backfield despite being frequently victimized by double-teams. Robert Mathis did his part to add pressure from the other side, but ironically got a sack and forced fumble late in the game rushing from the right side. Newcomer Corey Simon showed his ability to shove would-be blockers into their own backfield. And Larry Tripplett had his best game as a Colt, registering two sacks and making seven tackles on the night. Tripplet had just one sack in his first three seasons.

And for all the naysayers who questioned Gary Brackett's ability to be an effective starting middle linebacker, know this; Brackett is the winner of round one in that debate, grabbing two interceptions, including a leaping catch that prevented a Ravens score in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for the Colts. Brackett was also the leading tackler with eight tackles and two assists on the night. His first interception came off a pass tipped by cornerback Nick Harper, which Brackett dove to reel in before it touched the grass.

The Colts' other interception came as they were leading 17-0 in the fourth quarter when linebacker Cato June snatched an Anthony Wright pass in stride and sprinted 30 yards for a touchdown with 2:39 left in the game.

The Ravens' power running back, Jamal Lewis, was stymied by a Colts defense that held him to 3.0 yards per carry and a total of 48 yards on the night. Incredibly, he got 34 of those yards on two carries, leaving him with a total of just 14 yards on his other 14 attempts. The Colts were swarming to him and anyone who touched the ball. It was rare to see a single Colts defender taking on a ball-carrier without someone else joining in or close by to add their follow-up punch.

Lewis' backup, Chester Taylor, had similar results against a Colts defense that many wrote off before the season even began. While he only carried the ball four times, he broke one of those them for 23 yards. But he was stuffed for a total of just four yards on his other three carries.

Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller looked better than most people expected early on, completing 15 of 23 passes for 141 yards and one interception. But without a successful running game, the Ravens weren't able to do much more than repeatedly move into long field goal range. And uncharacteristically, Ravens kicker Matt Stover missed all three attempts (38, 47,45). Boller had to leave the game with an injury after one of Tripplett's sacks and was relieved by veteran Anthony Wright (19-31-1 TD, 2 INT) who put up good numbers, but he threw two interceptions and didn't get his team on the scoreboard until the Colts put some of their second-team defenders on the field in the closing minutes.

One thing that was very evident about Peyton Manning (21-36-254, 2 TDs) was that he noticed how well his defense was playing. And as a result, he showed a patience that was occasionally lacking the past two years. He didn't hesitate to throw the ball away on third downs because he saw that chances were pretty good that he'd get it back without seeing the other team putting points on the board during his hiatus.

When the Colts came out for the second half with only a Mike Vanderjagt field goal on the board, Manning found Marvin Harrison in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Colts a ten-point advantage. Then just four plays into their next drive, Manning saw tight end Ben Utecht down the middle of the field and drilled a 26-yard strike for Utecht's first regular season touchdown as a pro.

Colts tight end Dallas Clark was in his street clothes on the sideline, watching as Manning worked his magic spreading the ball around to Brandon Stokley (7-83), Marvin Harrison 6-69-1) and Reggie Wayne (4-50). Clark was recovering from a concussion and the team decided to give him more recovery time in hopes that he'll be ready for next week.

On a night when the Colts finished with 3 offensive scores, a defensive score, gave up no sacks and posted a +4 turnover ratio, their kicking game was clicking as well. Punter Hunter Smith was magnificent, booting 7 punts -- long when they needed to be, short when they needed to be, and even getting off a pair under pressure. Rookie Dave Rayner got off to a good start with one of his kicks reaching the one-yard line and another deep enough for a touchback. And Mike Vanderjagt made his only field goal attempt of the night.

With a full head of optimism and confidence after their performance in Baltimore, the Colts head back to Indy for their home opener next Sunday against Jacksonville, who defeated the Seahawks 26-14. The Colts and the Jaguars head into that game tied atop the AFC South.

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