NFL: Storm can’t rain on Peyton’s parade

Max Petrunya

In the movie “Thank You For Smoking,” Nick Naylor has an exchange over the phone at 3 a.m. with a workaholic Hollywood executive played by Rob Lowe. As the excited executive leaves Naylor to answer another phone call, Naylor poses the tongue-in-cheek question, “When do you sleep?” With a firm face and soft tone, Lowe’s character replies nonchalantly, “Sunday.” And while the character is exaggerated and incomprehensible to normal working human beings, the real-life workaholic journalists who have criticized Peyton Manning for his inability to come through in the clutch joined Lowe’s character on Sunday, finally silenced by Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

Manning, Super Bowl XLI’s MVP, has done what many thought he never could do: win a championship. It is fitting that Manning got the monkey off his back last weekend in Dolphin Stadium, a playing field that was home to arguably the NFL’s greatest quarterback never to have won a Super Bowl. In the Colts’ 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears, Manning went 25-for-38 for 247 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception.

Turnovers were the name of the game in Miami this weekend, with both teams combining for a total of eight. The rain certainly didn’t help either team’s cause, but the Colts were able to come up with enough big plays in clutch situations to win.

From the onset, it appeared that Super Bowl XLI would be a total domination by the Chicago Bears. Chicago’s X-factor, Devin Hester, returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a Bears touchdown in the opening seconds of the NFL’s big game. This marked the first time in Super Bowl history that the opening kick was returned for a touchdown. Chicago intercepted Manning on the Colts’ first offensive possession. The story of the first quarter, however, was the four turnovers committed. Rex Grossman added to the Bears’ lead by throwing his only touchdown pass of the game to Muhsin Muhammad. The Colts scored six points in the first quarter on Manning’s only touchdown pass of the game to Reggie Wayne, with Adam Vinatieri missing the extra point. The sloppy first quarter ended with the score Chicago 14, Indianapolis 6.

The Bears were completely shut down in the second quarter, running only seven plays and generating just 15 yards. The Colts, on the other hand, would take the lead going into halftime with Vinatieri’s field goal and Dominic Rhodes’ touchdown run. At halftime, the score stood Indianapolis 16, Chicago 14.

Two Vinatieri field goals in an uneventful third quarter put the Colts on top, 22-17. Grossman lost a total of 22 yards on two consecutive plays for the Bears, whose only score of the quarter – and for the rest of the game – came off a Robbie Gould field goal. Vinatieri’s two field goals helped him set an NFL record for scoring in a postseason with 49 points, surpassing the 48 points generated by Terrell Davis in 1997. Heading into the final quarter of play, the score stood 22-17 in favor of the Colts.

Despite the Bears’ poor offense and defense, Chicago still had a chance to make it a game in the fourth quarter. Those chances were squashed by the arm of Grossman, who threw two interceptions in the final quarter. One interception was returned for a touchdown by Kelvin Hayden, giving the Colts a 29-17 lead and sealing the victory for Indianapolis. Running out the clock was elementary for the Colts on the legs of Dominic Rhodes, who finished the game with 113 yards on 21 carries. This Super Bowl victory marked the Colts’ first Super Bowl win since making their home in Indy. Previously, the Colts won Super Bowl V when they played in Baltimore.

Manning finished the game by completing 25 of his 38 pass attempts for 247 yards. His favorite target was running back Joseph Addai, who tallied 10 receptions for 66 yards. The rookie out of LSU also ran for 77 yards, totalling 143 all-purpose yards for the game. Wayne and Harrison chipped in with 61 and 59 receiving yards, respectively.

Grossman was actually more accurate than Manning, completing 71 percent of his attempts, but his passes were only good for 165 yards. It was his three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble that caused the Bears to stall offensively on multiple occasions. Running back Thomas Jones had a superb game, racking up 112 yards on just 15 attempts. His effect was nullified once the Bears went down by two scores and Chicago was forced to pass more often. Desmond Clark was the team’s leading receiver, catching six passes for 64 yards.

Defensively for Chicago, Lance Briggs’ 11 tackles led a unit that was able to muster just one sack. Linebacker Brian Urlacher chipped in with seven tackles.

Although Manning won the Super Bowl MVP title, anyone on the Colts’ team could have earned the honor for his effort in this game. Manning fits the title, given his leadership and the instrumental role he played in getting Indy to the Super Bowl this season. Manning has finally proven all the critics wrong and validated his Hall of Fame career.

Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy became the third coach in NFL history to win the Super Bowl as a player and a coach, and the first black coach to win a Super Bowl title. Although this game left something to be desired in its presentation, commercials and on-and-off field action, it marks the next phase for Manning and Dungy. It will be interesting to see how the Colts fare next season now that they have finally reached the pinnacle of NFL achievement. Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure: Manning’s critics can finally sleep after Sunday’s victory.