By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007
MIAMI, Feb. 4 -- The rookie was the workhorse, and the veteran was the finisher. Joseph Addai had the ball in his hands with striking regularity, and when he needed a rest, Dominic Rhodes plowed forward for the Indianapolis Colts' go-ahead touchdown in Super Bowl XLI, and they never looked back.
The Colts used their split-tailback rotation with more equity than any other NFL club this season and it paid off with the franchise's first championship since moving from Baltimore nearly 23 years ago. The Colts defeated the Bears, 29-17, at Dolphin Stadium, capping a season in which two relatively unknown tailbacks compensated for the departure of superstar Edgerrin James.
Rhodes got the end-zone glory, scoring the game's only rushing touchdown; Addai softened up the Bears for him as the Colts ran for 191 yards overall. Rhodes finished with 21 carries for 113 yards, while Addai ran 19 times for 77 yards, and also caught 10 passes for 66 yards, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards. The Colts figured all along they would need both men to try to wear down Chicago's defense. Despite the Colts' passing prowess, they have featured the ground game more regularly this season.
On some teams dual tailbacks might be problematic, but both of these backs speak of the system's virtues. Neither complained when the other became the starter, and they are so interchangeable that they often joke about which one is about to enter the game before any given offensive series. The Colts were the only team in the league to have two backs with at least 185 carries each, giving both ample work.
Rhodes, an undrafted free agent from Midwestern State, is experienced enough to know how lucky he is to be a part of such an explosive offensive team, while Addai, picked 30th overall from LSU, realizes he is in no position to complain about anything in the infancy of his career.
"I think the way we used them through the regular season kept them fresh in the postseason," offensive coordinator Tom Moore said. "They did a great job for us."
Rhodes, who started every game in the regular season before making way in the playoffs for Addai, a first-round pick, again watched most of the first quarter. Sitting on the bench never made him sulk, and Sunday was a sweet reward.
"He didn't look at it as a demotion at all," Colts Coach Tony Dungy said of Rhodes's playoff role. "He just looked at it as this is how we're doing things now."
"We don't really worry about who's starting," Rhodes said. "We're just two unselfish guys."
Again Sunday, Rhodes spelled Addai perfectly. Rhodes, a Colt all six of his NFL seasons, ran three straight times near the goal line in the second quarter -- picking up a crucial first down then storming ahead on the next carry and forcing the ball over the goal line two carries later. The display of power football ran counter to the Colts' finesse image, but both running backs proved capable of slashing through the Bears' stout defense Sunday.
"Our linemen were making great holes and I just tried to hit them as hard as I can," Rhodes said.
Addai was a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game as well. Routinely he took screen passes for sizeable gains, dashing through and around linebackers and defensive backs. He had 85 combined yards in the first half alone, and 18 touches by then (12 rushes and six receptions), becoming a linchpin for the AFC's top-ranked offense.
It carried over after halftime.
Of the 13 plays in the Colts' first drive of the third quarter, nine went to Addai in one fashion or another. He opened the half by catching a short pass, ran for eight yards, then caught another short pass. Three plays later, Addai got the first of three straight carries for a total of 15 yards. On the next play he caught a screen pass and turned it into a nine-yard gain, stopping, starting and sending Bears flying the wrong way. He then ran for two yards and caught a pass from Peyton Manning for three yards, setting up Adam Vinatieri's short field goal for a 19-14 lead.
Addai picked up three first downs on the drive -- the Bears had one as a team to that point -- and accounted for 44 yards. Chicago's defense was showing signs of fatigue -- the Colts' offense had been on the field more than two-thirds of the game to that point. Addai was winded, too, after that exhausting drive, but Rhodes was still waiting comfortably on the sidelines.
When the Colts got the ball back in the third quarter, Rhodes took over. It was synergy in motion: He exploded 36 yards on his first carry of the half, followed that with an eight-yard run and, three plays later, barged ahead for eight more yards, giving Vinatieri another chip shot for a 22-14 lead. On the Indianapolis bench, all was well. Rhodes -- who usually finishes games as the most experienced back -- ground out the fourth quarter and the Colts could party deep into the night.
"Joseph got us off to a great start, then Dom came in and it seemed like he hit a second gear," Dungy said. "He ran with a fury coming off the bench for us all through the playoffs."