The Colts defense rolled out the NFL red carpet for San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith's debut late Sunday afternoon. And then they knocked the rookie down and rolled him up in it as Indianapolis sacked him five times, intercepted four of his passes and left him with a quarterback rating in the single digits en route to a 28-3 win.
Robert Mathis led the sack attack with two while Dwight Freeney, David Thornton and Montae Reagor were each credited with one each.
But the Colts didn't get through the day without their own struggles. They were penalized ten times after being hit with just 17 flags in their first four games -- and just once last week. Offensive tackle Tarik Glenn drew four of the offense's six fouls while the punt return unit and defense each accounted for two more.
After scoring on their opening drive in the first half, the Colts fumbled, failed to complete passes on two third downs, and had a pass intercepted. It's the kind of half that keeps head coach Tony Dungy up at night.
Peyton Manning (23-31-255, 1 TD) put together four good drives but was intercepted twice by a patchwork 49er secondary and was sacked for the first time this season. 49ers linebacker Andre Carter slipped past guard Jake Scott getting credit for the takedown.
But as the game wore on, Manning's veteran presence contrasted brilliantly against the deteriorating confidence of his inexperienced opponent who was taking the snaps for the 49ers. Manning led the Colts through two long, clock-grinding drives that put the game far out of reach at 28-3 in the fourth quarter.
Edgerrin James was absolutely bullish on the 49ers defense, averaging 5 yards per carry totalling 105 yards and a touchdown. He also tacked on four catches for 42 yards. During the Colts' opening drive that was capped off by a 6-yard touchdown run by Dominic Rhodes, James banged his way through San Francisco's defense for a season-high 33-yard run from scrimmage. The 100-yard game was the 43rd of James' career, making him the all-time leader in percentage of games (50%) in which he has reached the 100-yard mark.
But even James wasn't immune to a bad twist of fate. At the end of an 11-play drive on their second possession, James ran behind the right guard from one-yard out, and while still piled on top of bodies he reached out with the ball and appeared to break the plane of the goal line before a 49ers defender slapped it loose. The ruling by the officials was a fumble and a touchback, handing the ball to the 49ers.
But Smith and his 49ers offensive cohorts were simply mismatched this day against a swarming, driven Colts defense.
In the first half, Robert Mathis forced a punt with a sack. Then linebacker Cato June ran in front of a receiver -- in an instance of deja vu from the season opener against Baltimore -- snatched the ball in midair and sprinted to the end zone to put the Colts up 14-0. It was the first of two interceptions on the day by the Colts outside linebacker.
"I think they were reading a rookie quarterback's eyes, and a few times I gave myself away," Smith said.
A few minutes later defensive tackles Montae Reagor and Larry Tripplett sandwiched Smith as he threw, taking enough velocity off the throw that Jason David was able to move up and pick it off.
Not to be outdone, defensive end Dwight Freeney got after Smith on the next possession and forced a fumble that the rookie quickly fell on and covered. Then, on the Niners final possession of the first half, Mathis came screaming in from the end forcing Smith to run for his life in the opposite direction -- but right towards an oncoming onslaught from Raheem Brock. Smith got the pass off, but the wobbly pass that came out of his hands was intercepted by safety Mike Doss who made a terrific diving catch near the sidelines.
The Colts offense settled in nicely during the second half, after an initial setback when Manning overthrew Marvin Harrison (2-17) on a deep pass that Harrison tipped, allowing Bruce Thornton to grab it for an interception that resulted in a touchback.
But the Colts converted their next two possessions into touchdowns. While Edgerrin James' 4-yard run and Troy Walters' 18-yard catch-and-run put the points on the board, wide receiver Brandon Stokley -- who watched most of the Tennessee game from the sideline -- was a key to the success of both drives. He had a team-high six catches for 59 yards in the second half, including four that resulted in first downs to keep those scoring drives alive.
And while the Colts will certainly have to reduce the miscues that didn't have much impact on the outcome of this contest, the bottom line for the team is that they got another road win and boosted their record to 5-0.
"The idea was just to take care of business," said Manning. "And we did that."
Following the game head coach Tony Dungy noted that safety Bob Sanders had injured his arm during the game, but the extent of the injury was not yet known.
The Colts head home to face the Rams (2-3)on Monday Night Football while the 49ers (1-4) will regroup during a bye week. With both the Redskins and Buccaneers losing today, the Colts and the Bengals are the only undefeated teams heading into Cincinnati's Sunday night matchup at Jacksonville.
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