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Dungy doesn't make same mistakes versus Chargers

Monday, November 24, 2008


AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tony Dungy refused to make the same mistake twice in San Diego.

A year after acknowledging he mismanaged the final two minutes against the Chargers, the Super Bowl-winning coach showed everyone what he had learned.

Make contingencies and don't get distracted.

The lessons proved useful Sunday night. Instead of getting caught off-guard by a replay reversal that brought up fourth down with 27 seconds left in a tie game, Dungy used the extended delay to discuss a surprise pass play that set up Adam Vinatieri for the winning field goal.

"This time, I think we all kept our composure a little better," Dungy said while laughing. "We had a chance to talk about it, and we said 'If it's a first down, we're going to kill the ball right away and have three downs to see if we can it in field goal range.' Then we said, 'What if it's fourth down, what if they move it back?' "

A great question, although it was one Dungy never pondered when the Colts visited San Diego in 2007.

Back then, it appeared Joseph Addai had run for a first down, but the spot was reviewed, reversed and it brought up fourth down. In the ensuing chaos, the Colts' game plan unraveled. They were called for a false start on fourth-and-1, Dungy burned his first timeout and Vinatieri subsequently missed a 29-yard field goal that would have given Indy the lead with 1:31 left.

So when Dungy found himself in almost the exact same predicament Sunday, with the same officiating crew, Dungy made a conscious decision to change strategies.

As the officials reviewed what they had originally ruled a first down near midfield, Manning jogged to the sideline to talk with offensive coordinator Tom Moore. As Manning started back onto the field, Dungy walked over, calling Manning back over to discuss another plan, just in case it was fourth-and-1.

Dungy took a calculated gamble.

"Usually, I'll ask if they have a good play to run, a play that they like. I make the decision whether we should go for it or kick it," he said. "We all discussed the stratgey of what we wanted to do. Tom and Peyton came up with the play. It was well thought out and talked out, and everybody knew what we wanted to do and we executed it well."

The plan called for Manning to run some time off the clock, leaving only enough seconds for either Vinatieri to kick it or San Diego to have a shot at a Hail Mary pass. Strangely, though, the clock had barely started when the ball was snapped.

Manning still made it work. Marvin Harrison got wide open as he ran from the right side all the way across the field to the left hash mark. All he had to do was cradle the 14-yard pass in his arms and fall to the ground before the Colts ran two more plays, then and watched Vinatieri kick the 51-yarder to win it.

In past seasons, Dungy has sometimes been criticized for being too conservative.

Yet this season, Dungy has shown more compunction than ever to try fourth-down conversions.

Earlier in Sunday's game, Manning threw a 1-yard TD pass to Dominic Rhodes on fourth-and-goal, which gave Indy a 20-10 lead. At Tennessee, Dungy went for it twice in a row on fourth down, failing both times and giving the Titans enough momentum to make a second-half rally.

The Colts (7-4) are now 9-of-13 on fourth-down tries this season, none bigger than the two Indy tried at San Diego.

Indy has now won four straight and owns victories over three of the AFC's preseason Super Bowl favorites -- New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego. And Sunday's victory coupled with a favorable final stretch -- visits to Cleveland and Jacksonville and home games against Detroit, Cincinnati and Tennessee -- may be enough to get back into the playoffs.

Dungy is still missing some pieces, though.

Bob Sanders, last season's defensive player of the year, missed his second straight game Sunday with swelling in his right knee and the Colts haven't given a timetable for his return. Dungy did say Monday that the safety does not have a staph infection.

The Colts also lost Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday early in Sunday's game with a strained calf. Rookie Jamey Richard replaced Saturday, whose status for this week is also unknown.

"He did the same thing at Detroit on Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and he missed a couple of games," Dungy said. "Hopefully, it will not be that long this time."

But at least Dungy could smile after his late-night flight back from the West Coast.

"It was so funny because we had the same officiating crew and we talked a little bit before the game with those guys about how strange that was," Dungy said. "But this time, we had time to really talk about it and think about what we wanted to do."

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