Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning
Thomas Jones, scoring against Seattle in the playoffs, leads the Bears' rushing attack that is tops in the postseason. But the return of safety Bob Sanders (below) has toughened the Colts' defense against the run
Is there anything else that matters in the Super Bowl tomorrow? Not if you've been within earshot of radio, TV and most newspapers
Yet, when it comes down to it, what likely will win or lose the football game is not so much Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning as it is the big, bad Bears running game. It wasn't the most prolific in the NFL the past season, but it was close -- No. 5, averaging 119.9 yards per game. Then, against two better teams in the postseason, Chicago averaged 158 yards rushing.
Coach Tony Dungy credits free safety Bob Sanders' return to the lineup as a reason his Colts cut their 173-yard average against the run in the regular season to 73.3 yards in three playoff games. Sanders returned for all three playoff games after missing 12 of the final 14 games in the regular season with a knee injury
In the playoffs, the Colts' run defense has looked more like the Steel Curtain than the worst in the NFL. They stoned Kansas City's Larry Johnson (13 carries, 32 yards), Baltimore's Jamal Lewis (13, 53), and held New England to 93 yards on 24 carries.
Yet each of those losing teams came under criticism for not being patient and sticking to the ground game. The Bears are patient -- they ran 503 times during the season, fifth most in the NFL
A good running game like Chicago's can accomplish three things tomorrow: Control the clock to keep its own defense off the field, keep the ball out of Manning's hands, and keep the ball out of the hands of Rex Grossman, the Bears' inconsistent quarterback with the 23 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. Unlike the Colts, the Bears don't want to put the game on their quarterback's shoulders.