Peyton Manning is just one win away from an elusive Super Bowl title
The word was that Colts head coach Tony Dungy couldn't win the big one. His protégé Lovie Smith, head coach of the Bears, was starting to hear the same sort of stories after his team folded at home in the playoffs last season and then stumbled badly down the stretch of the regular season this year. But both are now standing in the spotlight as the first African-American head coaches to coach in the Super Bowl.
However, neither of them was carrying a primate as big as the gorilla that has been hanging on Peyton Manning's back. King Kong is hanging on by his fingernails now as the former league MVP has finally gotten to the one game that has eluded him. Manning orchestrated a late game-winning drive to beat the rival Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last week, washing away years of playoff frustration and a sub-par postseason performance this year that had many thinking Manning might never reach the big game.
In Chicago, the season started with a seven-game winning streak led by QB Rex Grossman, who was one of the hottest passers in the league in September and October. But his game completely fell apart as the season progressed, and though the Bears still finished with a 6-3 record over the second half, it was the running game and the team's dominating defense that carried the load. But injuries have hit that defense hard, and some still think that the Bears are in Miami more because of the poor play and mistake-ridden football of their opponents in the NFC playoffs than because of their own ability.
Can that defense answer the call one more time? Can Grossman overcome his shortcomings to lead his team to the title? And what about Manning, will the championship game Manning show up, or the Manning that threw five INT in his first two postseason games? Can the Colts defense continue to hold up against the run? While the explosive Colts offense and the dominating Bears defense will grab the headlines, expect the Indy defense and Chicago's offense to make the difference in this game.
Manning showed last week that he still has the ability to make plays in the big spot and can put the Colts on his back and win the game when his team needs him to. But the key difference is the play of his defense, which despite its' shortcomings, has the ability to keep Grossman in check and make enough plays against the run to give Manning and Dungy a chance to finally get the postseason monkey off their backs. Colts 30, Bears 24.
Here's a look at some of the impact players for both teams:
WR Marvin Harrison- Still a great WR who continues to be Peyton Manning's go-to guy in the passing game. However, he has not produced in the playoffs as teams have worked hard to take him away with double teams.
TE Dallas Clark- He is the answer to all coverages that overplay Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, which is the reason he is the leading receiver in this year's playoffs.
RT Ryan Diem- An underrated OT who has to deal with more pass rush situations than most players at his position because of his QB. He occasionally needs help, but can stand on his own when needed.
RG Jake Scott- Inside run game has improved dramatically in playoffs due to the play of Scott and the interior linemen. Moves his feet well and is very quick off the snap, and also moves well laterally, making him an ideal blocker for the Colts stretch play in the run game.
C Jeff Saturday- A technically sound player, both as a run blocker and in pass protection. He is smart, tough, and durable, but sometimes struggles as a single blocker against bigger DT's.
LG Ryan Lilja- Very athletic, smart, and tough, which makes him a perfect fit for the Colts zone blocking scheme. He moves well and can adjust on the fly.
LT Tarik Glenn- A terrific pass blocker, but only an adequate run blocker. He will struggle with a bigger, more physical defender, but the Bears don't pose that threat, making this a good matchup spot for the Colts.
WR Reggie Wayne- Wayne is the only #2 WR in the NFL who is really a #1. He normally aligns to the left on the opposite side of the formation from Marvin Harrison, and has become the bigger deep threat and more of a "go-to" guy as coverages have shifted towards stopping Harrison.
QB Peyton Manning- He has a lot of ghosts in his closet when it comes to playoff football, and it's been worse this year than most. He has thrown more INT than TD and has struggled with perceived pressure. But the defense is finally backing him up. He doesn't have to do it all on his own anymore.
RB Joseph Addai- An explosive back who is much better in the open field than between the tackles and the back more capable of the big play. He is also an accomplished receiver. But he seems to have hit the rookie wall and is struggling with a chest injury. He also struggles in pass protection, so look for more of Dominic Rhodes in the Super Bowl.
RB Dominic Rhodes- Runs with more power than most people expect from a 5-9, 210-pound back. Showed in the game against the Ravens that he is capable of being the go-to guy in crunch time. He is not as good a receiver as Addai, but he is a much better blocker.
PK Adam Vinatieri- Simply put, the best kicker in the history of the NFL. His number compare favorably with Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame. He has made 8 FG in these playoffs, five of them over 40 yards.
WR Aaron Moorehead- When in game, Wayne in slot and Moorehead outside. Peyton not afraid to go to him in single coverage. Has speed. Spot intended for Ricky Proehl. Done nice job filling in.
TE Ben Utecht- A steady, reliable check down receiver who lacks the strength to be a factor as a blocker in the run game.
KR-PR Terrence Wilkins-Handles kickoff returns and punt returns. Had a career year with 52 KOR for 1,272 yards and a 24.5-yard average. Has excellent speed and open field running ability and had four returns of 40 yards or more.
LDE Robert Mathis- A completely undersized pass rusher who is asked to play over the OT at 235 pounds. But because protection is constantly shifted towards Dwight Freeney, he gets his chances.
LDT Anthony McFarland- Was obtained by the Colts in a trade this season to fill the vacancy left by Corey Simon and Montae Reagor. He has come on late in the season and is a big reason the Colts are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry in the playoffs.
RDT Raheem Brock- A natural DE who moved inside to DT due to injuries. Though he has improved against the run in the playoffs, he is a better player off the edge.
RDE Dwight Freeney – Is coming off a sub-par season where he was almost non-existent at times. He has gotten his moves back though and is playing better in the playoffs. His speed creates mismatch problems for every OT and almost always requires double teams.
SLB Rob Morris - The Colts intended for him to be a backup this season, but inconsistent play by the defense this season forced him into the lineup. A smart player who lacks ideal athleticism.
MLB Gary Brackett – An undersized player who won the job from Morris because he does a better job of dropping into coverage in the Tampa Two scheme. Struggles against the run and compensates by over-committing and will get burned by play action pass.
WLB Cato June – His play was very inconsistent early in the season, but he is very athletic and can excel in coverage against WR's and as a blitzer.
LCB Nick Harper - Harper is a solid player who was maligned during the season, but as the pass rush has improved, so has his play. He can play some man coverage if needed.
RCB Jason David- A typical Cover Two zone corner. The Colts will be taking a chance if they ask him to do too much.
Nickel Marlin Jackson - Has been getting more chances to play late in the season. A safety-corner tweener who is physical and can blitz.
SS Antoine Bethea - A terrific young tackler who complements Bob Sanders well. He has surprised most NFL scouts. Is at his best in half field coverage, but has the speed and range to play the deep middle.
FS Bob Sanders - The one player on the Colts defense that the QB must find before every snap. He is better against the run than the pass, but is physical and is not afraid to tackle anybody. Can be overaggressive and get out of position.
P Hunter Smith - Good directional punter who didn't have his best season. He is very deliberate in his approach and can be blocked.
WR- Bernard Berrian- Became a playmaker in the Bears offense early in the season. Shows excellent deep speed and has the ability to make the big play.
TE- Desmond Clark- Set career highs in catches, yards, and TD this season. Has the speed to run the seam and the size to create mismatches in the red zone. Can line up tight, as a wing, or in the slot.
RT- Fred Miller- A solid player against the run and the pass, but not outstanding in either situation. A dependable starter who gets the job done despite a lack of physical tools.
RG- Roberto Garza- An athletic and versatile player who plays with good technique and a lot of fire.
C- Olin Kreutz- A smart player who plays with great technique and owns and displays every intangible you could possibly ask for. Lacks size and won't get a push off the line of scrimmage against bigger DT's, but is aggressive and plays with fire.
LG- Ruben Brown- An aging veteran headed towards the end of his career, he is still an effective starter who is athletic enough to make blocks on the second level and strong enough to anchor against bull rushers.
LT- John Tait- Tait is a scrappy player who is probably a better RT than LT. He is a very good run blocker with the quickness and athletic ability to block at the second level, and the strength to move the LOS.
WR- Muhsin Muhammad- A big, physical receiver who makes his living working the underneath zones. Can create separation with his size. Lost some of his #1 WR status to Bernard Berrian this year, but has been effective in the playoffs.
QB- Rex Grossman- Started the season as perhaps the hottest QB in the league, but has been wildly inconsistent. Played well in his first playoff game however, and has the ability to win or loss this game on his own.
FB- Jason McKie- Very good special teams player and an adequate lead blocker, but doesn't lend much else to the offense.
RB- Thomas Jones- Jones has the toughness to run between the tackles, but is at his best running off the edge and getting to space. Has split the load with Cedric Benson late in the year, but has shown himself to be a viable option down near the goal line.
RB- Cedric Benson- Has provided a boost to the Bears running game late in the season with his power running style between the tackles. Can also be a capable receiver.
PK- Robbie Gould- Had a career year and is headed to the Pro Bowl for his efforts. Showed he could make some big pressure kicks in the postseason in the win over Seattle.
LDE- Adewale Ogunleye- Uses his quickness and athletic ability to create up field pressure on the QB. A very good pass rusher who can be neutralized with double teams and struggles to anchor against the run.
LDT- Tank Johnson- Has struggled with off the field issues this season, but when on the field is a tenacious defender who can penetrate the pocket from the interior and disrupt plays in the backfield.
RDT- Ian Scott- Plays with good leverage and is an effective plugger who does a good job of keeping blockers off the LB's.
DT - Mark Anderson- A rookie who did not start this season but made his mark as a situational pass rusher with 12 sacks, good for 8th in the NFL.
RDE- Alex Brown – The best lineman on one of the NFL's best defenses. He is quick and explosive off the line and plays with a non-stop motor. Can be exposed in the run game.
WLB- Lance Briggs- Plays in the shadow of Brian Urlacher, but is a Pro Bowl player in his own right. Very good in open space and can play in coverage. Plays with great intensity.
MLB- Brian Urlacher- Has excellent physical skills, is very instinctive and smart, and is always in position to make a play. At his best in open space where he can run to the ball. Struggled late in the season when his DT's couldn't protect him from bigger blockers.
SLB- Hunter Hillenmeyer- Smarter than he is good. Plays with good technique and is a solid tackler, but lacks ideal athletic ability for the position.
LCB- Charles Tillman- Has excellent physical tools and is at his best in press coverage. Will make plays on the ball, but his aggressiveness can sometimes work against him. Struggled with an injury late in the season.
RCB- Nathan Vasher- Has excellent speed and quickness and is very fluid in coverage. Will make plays on the ball and can score from anywhere on the field.
Nickel- Ricky Manning Jr- Would start for a lot of teams in the NFL. Very quick and fast. On the smaller side, but he is perfect as a slot nickel CB who can eliminate the 3rd WR for most teams.
SS- Chris Harris- A better run defender than when in coverage, he is big, strong, and physical and will be a part of the core of this defense for years to come.
FS- Danieal Manning- Rookie who stepped in and started for the injured Mike Brown. Started 14 games and did an admirable job, but is still learning the NFL game.
P- Brad Maynard- Good directional kicker with a strong leg, but is aging and inconsistent.
RET- Devin Hester-Set NFL mark with 6 returns for TD. Has excellent speed and open field running ability and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.