There are 20 players on the active roster of the 2009 Colts that were members of the team that won the championship following the 2006 season. That veteran leadership on this team — don't forget that Jim Caldwell was on the sidelines for Super Bowl XLI — will help prepare the other 33 players on the roster for the monumental event that they about to experience.
The 2006 Colts were the third seed and needed to win three playoff games — two of them on the road — in order to advance to the final round, whereas the 2009 squad played both their games at home as the first seed, though both teams needed to beat the Ravens and both teams needed to overcome a halftime deficit in order to emerge victorious.
Both teams won their first nine games of the regular season, but the 2009 Colts won their next five after that before dropping their last two, while the 2006 team finished 3-4, losing four of their last six, with the low point being a crushing 44-17 defeat at the hands of the Jaguars in Week 14.
The seeming turning point of the 2009 season was when Indianapolis controversially pulled their starters in the third quarter of a 29-15 loss to the New York Jets. The thinking was that taking the last two weeks of the season off in order to prevent injuries coupled with the bye week they earned in the playoffs would take away this team's edge. The flip side of that thinking is that they were sharp in 2006 because they needed to fight every step of the way and a long layoff at the end of the season would be their undoing when the games really counted.
During the 2006 regular season, the Colts finished third in total offense, third in points per game, 18th in rushing yards per game, and second in passing. The 2009 stats were similar, but not as impressive, with Indianapolis finishing ninth in offense, seventh in scoring offense, 32nd in rushing, and second in passing. Interestingly enough, both teams finished behind the New Orleans Saints in all categories.
On defense in 2006, they finished 21st in total defense, 23rd in scoring defense, 32nd in rushing defense, and second in passing defense. In 2009, they finished 18th in total defense, eighth in scoring defense, 24th in rushing defense, and 14th in passing defense. The 2009 squad is more of a bend-don't-break defense than the 2006 version, but both were troubled by the running game in the regular season. But, both teams faced two strong run games — the Chiefs and Ravens in 2006 and the Ravens and Jets in 2009 — and allowed only 82.8 yards per game on the ground in 2006 and 86.5 yards per game in 2009.
Both teams had the heart of a champion and stepped up where necessary in order to win games in critical moments. The 2009 squad had an easier road, no doubt, as they won their two games leading up to the Super Bowl by an average of 15 points, while the 2006 Colts won their three games by an average of 9.3 points. All the games the 2009 version played were well in hand by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, which certainly cannot be said for the 2006 version. Trepidation from Colts fans in the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLIV will be felt as a result of the fact that this run to the championship has come too easy, that this Indianapolis team will not be able to stand up in the face of true adversity and pressure.
Well, those fans should take heart in the fact that this team staged seven fourth quarter comebacks during the 2009 regular season. They should remember that this team trailed heavy underdog New York in the AFC Championship game. They should remember that Peyton Manning has, throughout this season, refused to let his team lose.
That's one of the reasons Manning was voted MVP this season — LaDanian Tomlinson was named MVP following the 2006 season — and one of the reasons he has built on that momentum in the 2009 postseason. In the 2006 playoffs including the Super Bowl, Manning finished with three touchdown passes, seven interceptions, and a 70.2 quarterback rating. Through two postseason games in 2009, Manning has five touchdown passes, one interception, and a 104.6 quarterback rating, and that was after facing the league's best pass defense in the AFC Championship game.
The overall postseason experience of this team will help them considerably in the championship game, but Manning's leadership, determination, and deadly efficiency has made the maee the biggest difference — and will in Super Bowl XLIV.
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