- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Kansas City’s Larry Johnson was going to run through and over a porous Indianapolis defense. The question in the AFC wild-card game was whether Peyton Manning and Co. would be able to score enough for the Colts to prevail.

Instead, the Colts’ NFL-worst run defense stuffed the Chiefs’ standout running back and overcame a rare three-interception day by their perennial All-Pro quarterback to pull away for a 23-8 victory yesterday at RCA Dome.

“Obviously, we have the worst defense ever assembled,” Colts linebacker Cato June said jokingly. “People have been saying what we can’t do all year. It’s a new year, ‘07. It’s either win or go home. We played physical and fast for 60 minutes. When you do that, you have a lot of success.”

Johnson finished with 32 yards on 13 carries for the Chiefs, who fell to 0-4 all time at RCA Dome.

“We acted like they didn’t get all the coverage saying they couldn’t tackle,” Johnson said. “Of course, they came in with the emphasis on stopping the run. I feel like a turkey that you fatten up for the kill. Those guys stepped up and said, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ ”

The Colts, who went 12-4 in the regular season, advanced to a divisional round matchup at second-seeded Baltimore (13-3) on Saturday in their first playoff game — and fourth contest overall — in the city they abandoned in March 1984. Kansas City, which was 9-7 this season, fell to 0-6 in the postseason dating to January 1994.

Indianapolis bottled up Johnson right from the start. Linemen Raheem Brock and Robert Mathis stopped Johnson for no gain on the game’s first offensive play. Cornerback Nick Harper stopped Johnson for two yards on the next snap.

“When you let a team know that we can’t do what we do best, then that’s going to keep them amped,” Johnson said.

Colts coach Tony Dungy added: “Larry Johnson is as impressive on film as anybody you’re going to see. Our guys just rose to the challenge. We played faster with a little more energy. That was the way we hoped to play all year and we picked a good time to play that way. If you’re going to win the championship, you have to have some games where your defense does come on when your offense isn’t.”

By the end of the first quarter, Johnson had eight yards on five carries and the Chiefs had totaled two yards. The Colts had 107 yards in the quarter but led only 6-0 because Manning missed receiver Marvin Harrison open inside the Kansas City 15 on third down and threw away a pass on third-and-goal from the 1 on the next series.

Manning, who finished the day 30-for-38 for 268 yards, then proceeded to throw two of his three interceptions in the second quarter.

Still, the Colts outgained the Chiefs 255-16 in the first half, with 15 first downs to Kansas City’s zero, and led 9-0 at halftime.

Manning, whose three-interception game was just his second in the last four seasons (the other came in the 2004 AFC Championship game at New England), insisted there was no panic in the locker room.

Part of the reason for that was Kansas City’s inconsistency on offense. Chiefs’ quarterback Trent Green threw for only 107 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Green had no completions to a starting wide receiver all day, continuing to play poorly since returning from an eight-game post-concussion layoff.

“We hung our hat on the running game all year long,” Green said. “It’s hard to get any rhythm going when you can’t get a first down. As well as our defense played, when you can’t generate plays, eventually they’re going to get tired.”

Indianapolis finally cracked the end zone with 4:14 left in the third quarter on a 6-yard run by rookie running back Joseph Addai, who had 122 yards on 25 carries. Kansas City responded with eight seconds left in the quarter on Green’s 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Manning led the Colts right back though, finishing a nine-play, 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to receiver Reggie Wayne with 10:16 left in the game. Indianapolis then sealed the victory with an interception by safety Bob Sanders, a fumble recovery by defensive end Josh Thomas and another interception, this time by safety Antoine Bethea.

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