Colts Roundup and Recap
Last Article Written:
August 15, 1999
Colts Even Preseason Record at One and One
Fourth-Quarter Rally Gives Team 20-17 Victory Over Bengals
By Mike Devitt
For the eighth consecutive year, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals faced each other in the preseason. For the third consecutive year, the Colts came out of that game a winner, rallying from four points down late in the third quarter to post a 20-17 victory before a crowd of 41,997 at the RCA Dome.
The win evened the Colts preseason record at one and one, but not without paying a price. Starting running back Darick Holmes suffered a fractured fibula in the second quarter, adding further confusion to the team's already inconsistent running game. Holmes' injury and the inability of the offensive line to effectively run block overshadowed otherwise strong performances by each of the team's three quarterbacks on offense and by Mark Thomas and Tony Blevins on defense.
Offensive Output Draws Mixed Reviews
In last week's preseason opener, Peyton Manning looked very much like a quarterback who hadn't thrown a competitive pass in the last eight months, completing only 6 of 11 passes for 47 yards and an interception in limited action against the Chicago Bears.
The results were quite different Saturday, as Manning, appearing more calm and in tune with the offense, played the entire first half and directed Indianapolis to a pair of scoring drives. On the team's first possession, Manning marched the Colts 48 yards on 12 plays, resulting in a 47-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt to give the team a 3-0 lead. Manning completed five of seven passes for 39 yards on that drive, including a pair of third-down conversions.
After a pair of Jeff Blake touchdown passes gave the Bengals a 14-3 lead, the Colts took over on their own 29-yard line late in the second quarter. Manning then drove the Colts 71 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a near-perfect pass to wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who raced down the right sideline 31 yards for a touchdown. Manning finished the night 12 of 16 for 137 yards and was not sacked in the first half.
Backups Steve Walsh and Kelly Holcomb picked up where Manning left off in the second half, with each player demonstrating good command of the offense. Walsh, who had been signed by Indianapolis as a free agent during the week, completed three of five passes for 32 yards, including a 16-yard strike to Lake Dawson in the third quarter.
Holcomb was equally impressive, engineering a pair of scoring drives for the Colts in the second half. Taking over for Walsh in the third quarter, he drove the Colts 50 yards on his first possession, which culminated in a 12-yard touchdown pass to Terence Wilkins. Later in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 17, Holcomb marched the Colts 52 yards down to the Bengals' 9-yard line, where Mike Vanderjagt hit a 26-yard field goal with three seconds left to win the game. Holcomb finished the night 9 of 14 for 103 yards and a touchdown.
"Our passing game was a lot better tonight than it was last week," said head coach Jim Mora, who praised the effort of all three quarterbacks Saturday. "The performance of those two guys (Walsh and Holcomb) was definitely one of the highlights of the game."
While the passing game appeared to have made great strides forward, the running game suffered a serious setback. Despite sending most of their runs to the left side behind starters Tarik Glenn and Steve McKinney, the offensive line was unable to open enough holes to muster a consistent running game. In the first half, the team managed just 16 yards on the ground (including eight rushes for one yard on first down); they finished the game with a total of 34 yards on 24 attempts.
"We have a hard time getting back to the line of scrimmage sometimes," said Mora. "It's a combination of not blocking very well and not running very well. I don't see many opportunities for our ball carriers to run and that's disappointing to me, because we've worked awfully hard on that."
The situation was further complicated when starting running back Darick Holmes suffered a fractured fibula on a late hit in the second quarter. Holmes' immediate replacement, Keith Elias, gained 22 yards on 11 carries. Rookie first-round draft pick Edgerrin James, who finally signed with the Colts just this past week, is expected to take over for Holmes and will see extensive playing time in the Colts' next preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on August 21.
Thomas, Blevins Step Up on Defense
With the signings of Shawn King and Chad Bratzke to strengthen the defensive line, and the additions of Chad Cota and Tito Wooten to provide depth in the secondary, there are no guarantees that a player can just show up and make a roster. Players who were once assured a spot with the team now find themselves fighting just to maintain their place on the depth chart.
Such is the position that defensive end Mark Thomas and defensive back Tony Blevins found themselves entering Saturday's contest with the Bengals. With the first series of roster cuts only days away, each player needed to perform well to catch the eye of the coaching staff and avoid the unemployment line. By game's end, it appeared both had done enough to ensure that they would remain with the Colts for the time being.
Thomas, lining up at both defensive end and defensive tackle, was perhaps the team's most consistent lineman. In the second quarter, he sacked Bengal quarterback Eric Kressler and forced a fumble (which was eventually recovered by Cincinnati). He also had two tackles for losses and was in on another half-dozen tackles on all areas of the field.
Blevins replaced Jeff Burris in the second quarter and played quite well against the Bengals' second unit. In the second quarter, he nearly intercepted a pass intended for Stepfret Williams. He then broke up a pair of passes in the fourth quarter to end a drive that would have given the Bengals the lead.
Blevins and Thomas were among a handful of Indianapolis defenders that had strong performances on Saturday. Playing in his first game as a Colt, linebacker Cornelius Bennett had a quarterback sack and assisted on three tackles. And rookie Mike Peterson, who started at the other outside linebacker position, led the defense in tackles and assists.
Onward and Upward
The Colts' preseason schedule continues next Sunday with a visit to Super Dome to face the New Orleans Saints. The game is expected to be a showcase between Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams, the top two running backs picked in this year's draft. Last season, the Colts lost to New Orleans in overtime 19-13.
The Colts will wrap up their exhibition season against the Seattle Seahawks on September 2nd. Last year, the Colts were beaten by Seattle 24-21 in a preseason game at the RCA Dome, then lost 27-23 at the Kingdome in the regular season. Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, the Colts have played Seattle 11 times in the preseason, winning five and losing six.
* Tight end Ken Dilger had the longest play of the game for Indianapolis, a 39-yard reception on a play-action fake by Manning in the second quarter. Jerome Pathon led the Colts with 67 receiving yards on four catches, while Marvin Harrison caught five passes for 61 yards.
* The Bengals employed a pair of former Colts in their offensive backfield for much of the second half. Brian Milne, a fourth-round pick of the Colts in 1996, started at fullback for Cincinnati and helped the Bengals rush for 123 yards. Cliff Groce, who played for Indianapolis from 1995-97, rushed six times for 21 yards and had two catches for four yards.
* Holmes was one of three Colts to be injured on Saturday. Defensive back Paul Miranda left the game with a sprained knee in the second half and will have an MRI on Sunday. And in perhaps the most bizarre incident of the night, punter Lonnie Calicchio slipped on the RCA Dome's turf and pulled a tendon during a kickoff attempt
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Mike Devitt writes the "Twelfth Man" column for the Indianapolis Star-News Online. He can be reached by telephone at (714) 841-9696, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.