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Colts 2006 season in review: Regular season

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

In honor of the ten-year anniversary of the Indianapolis Colts winning Super Bowl XLI the team is hosting a reunion this weekend. Leading up to the halftime ceremony on Sunday, Stampede Blue will be taking a look back this week at that incredible 2006 season - beginning today with the regular season.

The regular season for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 was nothing special. Well, at least that’s the way it felt.

This was a team that was a year removed from a league-best 14-2 record, yet fell short of their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl with a home defeat in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Changes had taken place since then, most notably with the addition of kicker Adam Vinatieri and the release of Mike Vanderjagt, but it was a ho-hum attitude all year as the team struggled to replicate their dominance from the prior year.

“It was really the entire experience,” head coach Tony Dungy recalled this week to FOX59’s Mike Chappell. “It was the whole year and putting it together. The year before we had such a dominant team. We started out 13-0 and we’re winning games easily. We don’t really have a one-score game all the way through those 13 wins. We’re playing lights out.

“The next year, ’06, we’re winning. We had that nine-game winning streak, but every game was stop them on the last drive or scoring on the last drive. We’re just playing with fire the whole way. In ’05, after week 5 I’m probably thinking, ‘Boy, this could be a Super Bowl year.’ In ’06, we’re winning games but you never got that feeling until we got into the playoffs.”

Make no mistake, however: the 2006 Colts were a good football team. They started the season 9-0 before a road loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They finished with the third-best offense in yards per game (379.4) and second-best in points per game (26.7). They led the NFL in first downs per game (23.5) and third down percentage (56%), while they were sixth in turnover margin (+7).

Quarterback Peyton Manning was MVP-good: he completed 362 of 557 passes (a completion percentage of 65%, third-best in the league) for 4,397 yards (second in the NFL), 31 touchdowns (most in the league), nine picks (the fewest in a season in his 18-year career), and a 101 passer rating (which led the league), also adding four rushing touchdowns (which is tied for his career high). Unfortunately for Manning, who at that point had won two MVP awards already, LaDainian Tomlinson had a historic season and ran away with the award, but that doesn’t take away from 18’s greatness.

The supporting cast - at least offensively - was good too. Rookie Joseph Addai rushed for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and he also added 325 yards and a touchdown receiving on 40 catches. Veteran Dominic Rhodes provided a good complement, rushing for 641 yards and five touchdowns (averaging 3.4 yards per carry) and catching 35 passes for 251 yards. The running back duo would play a key role in the Super Bowl later that year. Marvin Harrison caught 95 passes for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Reggie Wayne caught 86 passes for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns. Manning, Harrison, and Wayne, along with left tackle Tarik Glenn (playing in his final season) and center Jeff Saturday were named to the Pro Bowl for their play in 2006.

The defense, on the other hand, was a different story. A year after being a very good unit, the 2006 Colts took a step back. Star safety Bob Sanders played in just four games during the regular season, while star pass rusher Dwight Freeney managed just 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles (Robert Mathis recorded 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles). The defense ranked 12th in total yards per game (332.2) and 23rd in points per game (22.5), but they were among the worst in first downs per game (20.3) and were the worst in third down percentage (47%). The biggest weakness of the defense, however, was the run game: the Colts ranked dead last in yards per carry allowed (allowing on average 0.4 yards per rush more than any other team) and were dead last in rushing yards allowed (allowing 441 more yards than any other team). Only one team allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Colts did (20), and the Colts also gave up more 20+ yard runs than anyone else (18).

It was never as bad as in the team’s December game in Jacksonville, when the Jaguars ran their way to a 44-17 victory by rushing for 375 yards and four touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 166 yards and two scores, Fred Taylor rushed for 131 yards and one touchdown, and even Alvin Pearman rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown (he would finish with just 89 yards on the season - with 71 coming in this game - and never had a game in his career above 45 yards rushing besides this one). It was an embarassing loss and the third in four games for the Colts.

Despite all of the good that season - like Manning’s game-winning sneak with 50 seconds left against the Jets or the comeback against the Broncos on a huge day from Reggie Wayne or the win in New England - the Colts would enter the playoffs on a sour note, losers of four of the last seven and with a terrible run defense as its Achilles heel. A year after a crushing playoff defeat, the Colts would need a stunning defensive turnaround to avoid yet another early January exit.

Coming tomorrow, we will take a look back at the Colts’ victory in the wild card round of the playoffs over the Kansas City Chiefs.