The Colts reached the pinnacle by winning four postseason games with a defense that made a complete turnaround in the playoffs.
And with a running game that perfectly complemented Manning, thanks to Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, who combined for 190 yards — 113 on 21 carries by Rhodes and 77 on 19 carries by Addai, who also caught 10 passes for 66 yards.
Chicago was denied its first Super Bowl title since its powerhouse 1985 team. These Bears could have used Da Coach, Sweetness and their buddies.
It rained from start to finish; there was even “Purple Rain” during halftime when Prince sang some of his signature songs. And though Vinatieri twice was a victim of the slop, he kicked three field goals.
“We knew handling the ball would be tough,” Dungy said. “We showed we could win many ways.”
Hester’s spectacular return provided a stunning beginning — and a severe jolt to the Colts. The local product and only rookie All-Pro this season pumped his arms to excite the crowd before the kickoff, then lifted the fans from their seats with an electrifying run on which he never was touched.
He barely touched the ball again as Indy went to squibbing kickoffs.
Leading 16-14 at halftime, the Colts spent half the third quarter with a march to Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal. Twice on the drive, Manning fell to the ground while throwing. But he completed them.
Thomas Jones, forced to carry the Bears’ entire rushing load when Cedric Benson was hurt in the first half, was Chicago’s best player. But with Grossman ineffective, even inept, all the Bears managed in the second half was Robbie Gould’s 44-yard field goal late in the third period.
After Hester’s opening dagger, Manning tried to force a pass to Marvin Harrison in double coverage and was picked off by Chris Harris to spoil Indy’s first possession, but the Colts struck back on their next series, converting three third-downs. The final one was the most important as Manning got everything on a long pass to the uncovered Reggie Wayne even though Tank Johnson had his hands on the quarterback. Wayne trotted into the end zone for a 47-yard score.
Then the rain ruined three straight plays.
Holder Hunter Smith dropped the snap on the extra point and Vinatieri couldn’t get off a kick. Then Vinatieri, well aware of who was lurking deep, squibbed the kickoff to tight end Gabe Reid, who fumbled at his 35, with Tyjuan Hagler recovering for the Colts.
But Manning and Addai botched the handoff on the next snap and Chicago’s Mark Anderson recovered, the third turnover in the first 8½ minutes.
Couldn’t anybody play this game?
Jones certainly could. He used a sharp cutback to break a 52-yard run, the longest of his career, to the Colts’ 5, and Grossman found Muhammad in the front of the end zone for a 14-6 lead.
Jones finished with 112 yards rushing.
A fourth giveaway in the opening quarter, by Benson on his first carry before injuring his knee, didn’t damage Chicago.
Vinatieri, who made two Super Bowl-winning kicks for New England, nailed a 29-yard field goal early in the second period, but was wide left from 32 yards at the end of the half.
Vinatieri still set a record with 49 postseason points.
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