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November 7, 1999
Winning Streak at Four Games After Colts Defeat Chiefs 25-17
By Mike Devitt
A few weeks ago, ESPN Magazine proclaimed the Indianapolis Colts as "Team 2000."
The way the Colts are playing right now, it looks like ESPN may be a year behind schedule.
Playing before a raucous crowd of 56,689, the team's fifth consecutive sellout of the season, the Colts battled back from a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 25-17. As has been the case all year, the trio of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison each played significant roles in the team's victory, their fourth win in a row and their third straight at home.
James, fresh off last Sunday's 209-yard, one touchdown performance against the Cowboys, put up equally impressive numbers against Kansas City, gaining 109 yards on 20 carries and catching seven passes for 90 yards, including a touchdown. Manning completed 21 of 33 passes for 290 yards, while Harrison maintained the conference lead in receptions with seven catches for 93 yards.
"When you've got an opportunity like this, if you're going to be a successful team, it's really important to take advantage of it," said head coach Jim Mora.
The win gave the Colts their sixth victory of the year, equalling the team's win total from the 1997 and 1998 seasons combined. The team's 6-2 record after eight games also gave the Colts their best first-half record ever since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, and their best start to the season since 1977, when the then-Baltimore Colts won the AFC East.
"If you had asked me if this team could be 6-2, I'd have said it would be really tough. I think 6-2 realistically would be beyond anybody's expectations. But I'll take it.''
As important as the contributions of James, Manning and Harrison have been to the team's early success, it should never be forgotten that it takes the efforts of an entire team to succeed. Sunday's game was a prime example of that, as a handful of the team's young stars had an equally important hand in cementing the team's victory.
Newcomers Making Right Plays at the Right Time
Unless you're a first-round draft pick, most rookies in the NFL aren't expected to step in and have that much of an impact on their team's play. That scenario can't be said for the Colts, however, as five of the team's most recent additions -- James, fullback Paul Shields, wide receiver Terence Wilkins, linebacker Mike Peterson and punter Hunter Smith -- all played a part in the Colts' win.
Shields, who won the starting fullback spot from Scott Greene, didn't carry the ball and caught only one pass, but he opened a number of holes for the running game, helping the Colts average more than five yards a carry against Kansas City. Wilkins, an undrafted free agent from Virginia who has worked his way into the starting lineup, caught three passes for 26 yards and added another 122 yards in punt and kick returns.
Peterson, meanwhile, played one of his most inspired games of the season. He finished second on the team with ten tackles (seven solo), including a huge pair of open-field tackles -- one in which he picked up the Chiefs' Bam Morris and nearly body-slammed him to the turf -- that brought raves from the RCA Dome crowd.
Even Hunter Smith, who had taken a good deal of heat after having a punt blocked in last week's game against the Cowboys, rebounded to have an excellent game against Kansas City. Although he punted only twice, both punts were over 50 yards, pinning the Chiefs deep inside their own territory, and neither punt was returned.
Spreading the Wealth
If there's a more explosive offense in the NFL than the Indianapolis Colts, it doesn't come to mind right away. Sunday's contest showcased some of that explosiveness, as the Colts reeled off 375 yards of total offense to the Chiefs' 319 and averaged nearly a yard and a half better per offensive play. They also outgained Kansas City on the ground 119-108, an important statistic considering the Chiefs had come into the game with the league's fifth-best rushing attack.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between the Colts' offense and the Chiefs' offense is in the number of long plays each team had. In 60 minutes of play, Kansas City managed just one play that gained more than 20 yards -- Donnell Bennett's 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, in which the Colts were packed in on the defensive line and were trying to stop the Chiefs on fourth down.
In contrast, half of the Colts' total yards came on just ten offensive plays. The Colts had eight plays of 20 yards or more and two more plays of 15 yards or more, including a 30-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Edgerrin James that put the Colts back on top 13-10 at halftime. James also added a 27-yard run and a 21-yard catch on the same drive in the fourth quarter, which led to a seven-yard touchdown run by Peyton Manning.
But it wasn't just James who made the team's big plays. Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore spread the ball around to more than half a dozen targets, with six players making receptions of 20 yards or Marvin Harrison's had a first-quarter catch good for 29 yards. Fellow wideout Terence Wilkins had a 21-yard catch in the second quarter, as did fullback Paul Shields. And tight ends Marcus Pollard and Ken Dilger chipped in with 27- and 30-yard receptions in the second and third quarter, respectively.
"We had to battle our tails off," said Mora. "Thank God we were playing them at home. When you can win a game like this and come from behind like we did, you appreciate it even more."
Onward and Upward
The Colts will travel next week to play the New York Giants, the start of an East Coast swing that sees the team play road games in New York, Philadelphia and Miami in three of the next four games. Although two games are on the road in possible inclement weather, the combined record of their next three opponents is 10-14.
Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins, who currently lead the AFC East with a 7-1 record, play two of their next three games on the road as well, at Buffalo next week and at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. They also have a touch intradivision matchup with the New England Patriots. Should the Dolphins stumble, and should the Colts somehow run the table against their next three opponents, it would set up a rematch between the Colts and Dolphins in Miami on December 5th, a game which could have crucial ramifications in the playoffs.
* For the sixth consecutive game, the Colts' defensive unit knocked the opposing team's starting quarterback out of the game for at least one play. Late in the fourth quarter, Kansas City QB Elvis Grbac was smashed in the back by safety Jason Belser. Warren Moon replaced Grbac for the Chiefs' final play, a Hail Mary pass which was knocked down in the end zone.
* The Colts suffered a trio of minor injuries during the game. Right tackle Adam Meadows bruied his left knee in the first quarter and was replaced temporarily by Jamie Wilson. Linebacker Michael Barber was replaced by Ratcliff Thomas after suffering a knee injury later in the first, and Thomas Randolph hurt his shoulder on the opening kickoff in the second half. Each player returned to the lineup later in the game, however.
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Mike Devitt is a former sportswriter for the Indianapolis Star-News Online. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.