KICKOFF: Sunday, 6:25 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 40th meeting. Colts lead Bears 22-17, including a 41-10 blowout victory at Soldier Field on Nov. 21, 2004, in which Peyton Manning threw four TD passes and Edgerrin James rushed for 204 yards.
2006 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 3rd (18th rush, 2nd pass); defense 21st (32nd rush, 2nd pass). Bears: offense 15th (15th rush, 14th pass); defense 5th (6th rush, 11th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: A strong start is far more critical to the Bears, who need to control the tempo and feed the ball to RBs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. The Colts have been far better against the run in the postseason, but are still undersized up front and risk wearing down if asked to play too many snaps. And if Chicago's running game is rolling, QB Rex Grossman will be given a few chances to surprise the secondary deep. But the Bears aren't well equipped to play from behind, so look for Colts QB Peyton Manning to be aggressive from the start. Chicago wants to test Manning's bruised thumb, but Indianapolis' offensive line protects the passer as well as any unit in the league. If the game remains tight, Bears return man Devin Hester is the most explosive special teams player on the field and could have a direct impact on the outcome.
Colts: Franchise's first Super Bowl appearance since the Baltimore Colts beat Dallas, 16-13, Jan. 17, 1971. ... All three of the team's Super Bowl appearances have been in Miami, with the first two coming at the Orange Bowl. Bears: Grossman threw 16 interceptions in five games this season and just five in his other 13. ... DE Adewale Ogunleye has a sack in each of his past three postseason games.
As it turned out, the Colts ended up using the Miami Dolphins' practice site.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
It's safe to say that this has been anything but an ordinary season for the Indianapolis Colts.
Yes, the Colts will be playing the Chicago Bears on Sunday in Super Bowl XLI. And, yes, Indianapolis won its first AFC championship since the team moved west from Baltimore 22 years ago.
But what has made the 2006 season different is that the Colts have accomplished so much without playing as well as they have in recent years.
The team's offense, long the franchise's strong point, has been good but not great. The defense, meanwhile, struggled early and often before seemingly finding itself in the last three postseason games. And the special teams play, particularly the kickoff and punt coverage units, has been inconsistent at best.
There have been bright spots, to be sure. Quarterback Peyton Manning earned yet another trip to the Pro Bowl and was the NFL's leading passer this season. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are both going to the Pro Bowl and have become perhaps the best pass catching tandem in the league.
Also, running back Joseph Addai, the team's top draft pick last spring, was the leading rookie rusher in the NFL. Another rookie, safety Antoine Bethea, has been a major surprise on a young defensive unit that was hit hard by injuries to several key veterans. And place-kicker Adam Vinatieri has been every bit as good as advertised.
That being said, the best may be yet to come for a team that has been in its share of marquee events over the past few seasons. To put it simply, while the team appeared to be struggling at times despite its 12-4 regular-season record, this Colts team was in the process of reinventing itself.
This Indianapolis team has found a comfort zone that allows it to be successful whether it is playing the short passing game, grinding it out on the ground or chucking the ball the down field to its big-play receivers. That has been the big key to how this team has performed offensively during the playoffs.
"We're comfortable playing different ways and I was never concerned when people said, ‘The offense didn't look in sync,' or ‘the offense didn't do this.' We knew how the games were going to play out those first two (postseason) games, and those were the types of games we had to play," Colts coach Tony Dungy said recently.
"To get 32 points in a half against New England, there aren't many offenses that can do that. And when we had to do it, we needed to, we did. And that's what we're used to from our group."
The theme of "Finish" that permeates the Bears' Airport Hilton hotel in Miami is the motto that they've had for more than a year, and it was spawned by their inability to finish what they started last season.
After an impressive 11-5 regular season in 2005, the Bears stumbled in a 29-21 playoff loss to a Panthers team that they still believe they were better than. That failure more than any other factor has been the motivation to complete the task this time around.
"After last year's playoff loss, we had to come up with something," Coach Lovie Smith said. "As I looked at all the things we were able to accomplish last year, that was the one thing we didn't get done, and that's finish the season on a high note. Coming into this season — minicamps, training camp, all that — it seemed fitting to have that as our word, and we stuck with it."
The Bears are one victory away from the ultimate finish, and no matter what anyone says late Sunday night, none of them, deep down, will consider this season a finished product unless it involves hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"To finish it is to be Super Bowl champs," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has a room full of hardware for individual achievements but lacks a world championship ring. "That is the No. 1 thing, and was our goal from Day One when Coach (Smith) got here (in 2004). We actually talked about it a lot more this season than we had in the past because we thought we had the team to do it this year."
Last season, the Bears pulled off a dizzying turnaround from a 5-11 record in 2004. In some ways they felt a sense of accomplishment just by making the playoffs, but they knew they could have taken it further. This year, they knew it.
"Last year we came out of nowhere and won 11 games," Urlacher said. "But we thought this year we had a better chance to do it. That's been our motto all year; finish every play, finish every game, and whatever happens, happens. But make sure you finish every time."
In the NFC Championship Game, the Saints pulled to within 16-14, but the Bears finished them off by scoring the final 23 points of the game. While they've gone two steps further than last year's team, the Bears don't show any signs of the "just happy to be here," attitude.
"When you start something you have to finish it," Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said. "You don't quit anything in life and to finish means just that."
Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad was part of the 2003 Panthers team that almost finished but lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. His first season with the Bears ended with the playoff loss to his former team.
"Finish is big for this team," Muhammad said. "We felt like we left some opportunities out there last season, and we didn't finish. You can call it destiny or whatever you want to call it, but I call it determination. We know that if we finish the job, then we've done what we set out to do."
The Bears have had many opportunities to practice the art of finishing this season, holding on for narrow victories against the Vikings in Week Three, overtime victories against the Bucs in Week 15 and in the divisional-round playoff game against the Seahawks. There was a five-point win over the Lions in Week 16 and the Monday night miracle comeback from a 20-point deficit to defeat the Cardinals 24-23 in Week Six. The only close one that went the wrong way for the Bears was the 17-13 loss to the Patriots in Week 12.
"We've had a chance to finish a lot of football games," Smith said. "That's the one thing I can our football team has been able to do, finish games. We've played a lot of close games, and we find some kind of way to pull it out. There's one more step for us to say, ‘Job well done,' and we're anxious to have that opportunity."