By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007
MIAMI, Feb. 4 -- Peyton Manning's first Super Bowl was rain-soaked and inelegant. But no one on the Indianapolis Colts' soggy sideline at Dolphin Stadium was about to complain Sunday night. Manning cemented his place among the sport's greatest quarterbacks as the Colts used a spread-the-wealth approach on offense and benefited from the fourth-quarter gaffes of Rex Grossman to beat the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI.
Manning got his long-awaited Super Bowl triumph to go with his list of passing records. His coach, Tony Dungy, beat his good friend and Bears counterpart, Lovie Smith, in the matchup of the first black head coaches to lead their teams to the Super Bowl.
"We figured it was our year all year," Colts safety Bob Sanders said, "and we made it count."
A game that was played in a driving rain produced eight turnovers, five of them by the Bears. Smith spent the week defending Grossman, his mistake-prone quarterback. But Grossman rewarded that support by throwing the interception that sealed the Bears' fate.
They trailed by only 22-17 early in the fourth quarter when Grossman lobbed a throw in the general direction of wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad. The ball went directly to Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who grabbed it and broke a tackle attempt by Muhammad. Hayden weaved his way around Bears players to the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown. The Colts finally had breathing room in a game in which they had controlled the action but hadn't been able to get comfortably ahead on the scoreboard. Smith's instant-replay challenge contending that Hayden had stepped out of bounds was denied.
Grossman also threw an interception on the Bears' next possession and the outcome never was in doubt again.
Manning completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and was named the game's most valuable player. He threw an early interception but also had a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne during a first quarter in which the teams combined for four turnovers and 20 points.
Manning said he wasn't seeking validation for his career. He got it anyway.
"I never played that card or played that game," he said. "But it's nice to finally be on a championship team. . . . It's all happening pretty fast right now. I'm excited. I'm proud to be on this team. It's something I'll enjoy for a long time."
Said Dungy: "I don't think there's anything you can say now other than this guy is a Hall of Famer and one of the best players to ever play the game."
Colts tailbacks Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai had 190 rushing yards between them. Rhodes ran for 113 yards and a touchdown. Addai also had 10 catches. Adam Vinatieri provided three field goals.
Last season, the Colts chased an unbeaten season but didn't get it, then fell agonizingly short of the Super Bowl. This season, they were less dominant but more resilient, and they ended their string of big-game failures by beating the New England Patriots in a thrilling AFC title game and then outlasting the Bears here.
"It didn't go smooth," Dungy said. "It wasn't the easy road. It was the tough road. . . . I think the disappointments you have along the way make it feel that much better."
The Bears got a touchdown by Devin Hester on the opening kickoff and Grossman threw a touchdown pass to Muhammad later in the first quarter. But they did far too little on offense thereafter. Grossman fumbled two snaps and finished with 165 passing yards on 20-for-28 throwing accuracy.
"We came up short," he said. "We didn't make the plays to win. It's extremely disappointing. On a personal note, it's always disappointing when you don't make the plays to win."
The game produced the quickest touchdown -- 14 seconds -- in Super Bowl history. Hester, the rookie who set an NFL record with six touchdowns on returns during the regular season, fielded the kick at his 8-yard line. He cut across the field from his left to his right, burst through a seam of Colts would-be tacklers and accelerated, and he was gone. That quickly, all the pregame talk about Manning's legacy, Grossman's inadequacies and the two coaches' friendship and dual accomplishment was over and the football game was on.
"We talked about it: There would be some storms during the game," Dungy said. "No one was shocked, no one was really upset after the opening kickoff."
Manning threw an interception on the Colts' opening drive, as safety Chris Harris grabbed the slippery ball on a deep sideline pass aimed toward wide receiver Marvin Harrison. But the Bears punted and the Colts got a touchdown. On a third-and-10 play from their 47, Manning showed elusiveness in the pocket and heaved a pass down the field just before being hit by Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson. The on-target throw landed in the hands of the uncovered Wayne around the Bears 18, and he cruised into the end zone as Harris and cornerback Charles Tillman chased in vain.
"I just did my job getting behind the defense," Wayne said. "I don't know if it was a busted coverage or not, but Peyton got the ball there."
The Colts botched the extra point when holder Hunter Smith failed to handle a slightly high snap, and the turnovers came in a flurry after that. The Bears' Gabe Reid lost a fumble on the kickoff but the Colts fumbled the ball right back. Bears tailback Thomas Jones broke free for a 52-yard run. That set up Grossman's touchdown pass, as he zipped a well-thrown ball to Muhammad through tight coverage on third and goal from the 4.
Bears tailback Cedric Benson lost a fumble later in the first quarter on a hit by Sanders. The Colts didn't cash in immediately. But after an exchange of punts, Vinatieri connected on a 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter to get the Colts within 14-9. The Bears were sputtering on offense and punted again, and the Colts drove to a touchdown on Rhodes's one-yard burst.
The game had its second set of back-to-back fumbles late in the second quarter. Colts tight end Bryan Fletcher had the ball stripped by Tillman after a catch. Grossman mishandled the snap from center Olin Kreutz on the next play to give the ball right back to the Colts. But Vinatieri yanked a 36-yard field goal try wide left as time expired in the first half.
The Colts got the ball first in the second half and started to use the running and pass-catching of Addai to wear down the Chicago defense. They drove to the Bears 14. But Manning's third-and-10 completion to tight end Dallas Clark got only eight yards and Dungy wasted a timeout with a failed instant-replay challenge contending that the Bears had too many defenders on the field. They didn't, and Vinatieri's 24-yard field goal pushed the Colts' lead to 19-14.
The Bears were hanging around because the Colts were getting field goals instead of touchdowns. But they were going nowhere on offense. A second-and-one opportunity on their opening possession of the second half disintegrated into a fourth-and-23 punt when Grossman was sacked on second down, then fumbled another snap on third down but managed to fall on the loose ball.
Rhodes got free for a 36-yard run and the Colts managed a first down at the Bears 10. But again, they ended up turning to Vinatieri, this time for a 20-yarder. The Bears got a running-into-the-kicker penalty on the field goal but Dungy opted to leave the three points on the board rather than take them down for a fourth-down gamble from the 1.
A Colts personal foul on the next kickoff set up the Bears in Colts territory. But the drive stalled when Grossman threw a third-down incompletion. Bears kicker Robbie Gould sent a line-drive kick into the net behind the goal posts for a 44-yard field goal to narrow the Bears' deficit to 22-17, but that only served to get things close enough for Grossman's late blunders to be the difference-makers.