This is why Tony Dungy is in the playoffs (again) and ra-ra gurus that rely on emotion and head games will most likely sit at home in January (again).
I also cannot say enough about Rob Morris. Morris was the one personnel adjustment Dungy made, and it was long overdue. Gilbert Gardner was benched and placed on Special Teams duty (and he actually made a tackle on punt coverage). Rob Morris took his spot in the starting lineup at the SAM backer position and played inspired football. He finished with 7 tackles, but he was always near or around the football. He made one mistake, which resulted in Cincy's only touchdown. MasterRWayne described it best:
Despite this mistake, Morris played strong, fast, and smart most of the night. He contained plays well, and often forced running back Rudi Johnson to cut back into a sea of blue shirts. Johnson started the game well, but finished with 79 yards on 22 carries (3.5 average). The Bengals altered their normal game plan and made a concerted effort to run the ball.
The plan failed.
Had it not been for Terrence Wilkins botched punt fielding (an action that should cost him his starting returner job, in my opinion), the Colts don't allow the Bengals in the endzone all night, period. Cincy was trying to sustain long drives and keep the Colts offense off the field. There's only one problem with that philosophy: you have to score TDs for it to work. Cincy didn't. The Colts managed to do the two things they needed to do to win: they limited their turnovers and they stopped the run... for the most part.
Offensively, the Colts were amazing. Whenever I hear blowhard morons like Tony Kornheiser, who has Bob Kravitz's nuts so far down his throat it isn't even funny, blame the Colts offense for the recent skid, it just re-confirms for me that the national media knows absolutely nothing about the sports in which they cover. The Colts offense had only three possessions in the first half.
They are given the fewest possessions in the NFL because their friggin' defense can't get off the field. Yet, despite only getting the ball THREE FRIGGIN' TIMES in the entire first half, the Colts lead 17-10 at halftime. This means that on each of their possessions, they scored. They had to play perfect, and they did.
So, a big F YOU goes out to dork morons like Tony "Kravitz balls in my mouth" Kornheiser. Next time Tony, it might actually help to know what you are talking about before you open your trap. Good lord, MNF sucks right now.
Defensively, they did a fine job stopping Cincy's rushing attack, and they did a fabulous job pressuring Carson Palmer. Cincy's passing attack, which is amazing, was completely shut down. Part of it was Cincy's game plan. They wanted run more than throw. However, when they did throw, more often than not it was unsuccessful. Palmer only completed 50% of his passes and he fumbled 5 times (lost one). The patchwork safety combo of Matt Giordano and Dexter Reid did a fine job. Reid made a great deflection in the endzone to save a TD, and Giordano laid a solid hit on Chad Johnson on a reverse. I also cannot say enough about Nick Harper. He was absolutely amazing last night; amazing. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was limited last night, and when Harper was on Johnson he either limited the catch or the run after catch. Jason David played well too. As bad as the run defense has been, the Colts pass defense has been quite the opposite.
All in all, this was a big gut check, and the Colts delivered. Despite clinching their division, they went out there and played as if their playoff lives were on the line. I still have serious reservations about Cato June, whose tackling was so bad last night it was embarrassing. Rudi Johnson ran over him numerous times. Cato needs to get his head out of his butt if he wants to remain a Colt.
Homefield is still a possibility, and if the Colts can get healthy this team still has a chance. They need Sanders and Clark back ASAP, and hopefully Joseph Addai's ankle sprain is not too severe. Despite these injuries, the Colts dug deep and pulled out a tough win. Moocho respect to the Bengals and Kirkendall at Cincy Jungle. The Colts might face the Bengals again this year. They're a good team.
I also have to give a shout out to Marked Hoosier for blogging with me during the game. It was fun. I feel much better about this team. I still question some things (going for it on fourth down and 1 yard with that play), but they needed this win bad and they got it. Now, the focus is Houston and having a winning record in the division. Go Colts!