Game Balls: Colts at Vikings

It wasn't pretty, but the Colts scratched out an 18-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings for their first win of the season Sunday. ColtPower.com's Eric Hartz hands out game balls to the game's top performers on offense, defense and special teams. See who Hartz picked, and let us know if you agree in our forums!

Offense:

Quarterback Peyton Manning: This could just as easily go to Anthony Gonzalez, who had the best game of his career to date, or Reggie Wayne, who caught a touchdown pass and made another catch to set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal, but Manning gets the nod here.

Manning's numbers were far from spectacular — he connected on only 50 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice — but the Colts' veteran leader gets this game ball for his show of toughness on a day when virtually nothing was going right.

Manning was bruised and battered behind an offensive line that was dominated by the Vikings' defensive front. Manning was sacked twice, and the official box score credits the Vikings with three more "quarterback hurries" but that doesn't tell the whole story. Manning was knocked down many more times — and just like he has always done, he continued to get up and lead his team.

The final drive was the 31st game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and overtime for Manning, which ties Johnny Unitas' franchise record. It was the 106th victory for Manning in 162 career starts. He finished the game with 311 yards passing, the 44th time he's topped 300 yards.

Defense:


Kelvin Hayden made two big defensive plays in the fourth quarter Sunday
File photo: AP /David J. Philip

DB Kelvin Hayden: Although the defense gave up a lot of yards — the Vikings racked up 180 yards on the ground, and Adrian Peterson set a franchise record with 71 rushing yards in the first quarter— they only gave up 15 points, and no touchdowns, which was just enough to give the offense a chance at the win.

Hayden was a big part of that, with seven total tackles, third-best on the team behind Gary Brackett and Freddy Keiaho, who each had nine.

Hayden narrowly gets the game ball for back-to-back pass plays in the fourth quarter, where he stretched the limits of legal pass defense — first by winning a handfight with Bobby Wade to knock away a pass for a first down — and the next, when he made a nice recovery after getting beat by Bernard Berrian to force an incomplete.

Berrian looked like he was in the clear, behind Hayden and in front of Antoine Bethea, but Hayden closed on Berrian as the ball was in the air. On multiple replays, it was unclear whether Hayden clipped Berrian's heel, causing him to trip, or if Berrian tripped himself up.

In either case, Hayden nearly was able to catch all the way up, and it would have been a difficult catch for Berrian had he maintained his footing, as Hayden nearly swatted the ball away anyway.

Those two plays, the first of which would have meant a first down, and the second, which would have put the Vikings in scoring position, got Manning back on the field and allowed the Colts' offense to start turning the field-position edge in their favor.

Special Teams:

DB Tim Jennings: Although Justin Forsett — who had a 25-yard punt return to set up the game-winning drive — or Vinatieri were candidates, Jennings gets the game ball for his athletic play to down Hunter Smith's final punt of the game at the Minnesota two-yard-line.

The Colts had been losing the field-position battle all day, but Jennings' play — in which he first batted the ball up in the air, away from the goal line, then tiptoed along the line to catch it — gave the Colts the field-position advantage at the most important time of the game.

With the Vikings backed up against their own end zone, the Colts' defense was able to play aggressively, swarming to the ball and forcing quarterback Tavaris Jackson to make a throw for a first down to get Minnesota out of the hole. Jackson, of course, was incapable of doing this, and the Colts got the ball back with a short field, which allowed them to win the game on Vinatieri's field goal.


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