Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Number 15: Lucky For Colts, Unlucky For Eagles

The number 15 is quite prominent in the world of football. It’s how many minutes are in a quarter, as well as the number of yards a team is penalized for a personal foul. In Saturday’s NFL playoff action, the number 15 was significant in many other ways. It brought victory to the Indianapolis Colts and elimination for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Most significantly for the Colts, 15 was the number of points they scored in a 15-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens. All those points came thanks to the leg of Adam Vinatieri, whose five field goals gave him a total of eight in Indy’s two playoff victories. Only Reggie Miller has nailed more post-season three-pointers for an Indianapolis team. Coincidentally, Vinatieri celebrated each of his kicks by talking trash to Spike Lee.

The Indianapolis offense had 15 first downs for the game. That’s two more than the Ravens managed against the much-maligned Colts’ defense (NOTE: All writers are required to refer to the Colts’ defense as “much-maligned”). The return of safety Bob Sanders has been instrumental in the unit’s sudden improvement. He has a history of bringing power to a previously woeful group, having also been responsible for giving the Democrats control of Congress.

While Vinatieri and the defense carried the day, quarterback Peyton Manning was well below his standards with 15 completions. However, Peyton will take the result as the Colts earned a rare road playoff victory and moved within one game of their first Super Bowl appearance since moving to Indy. If the Colts win next week and advance to the big game, Manning will finally get a shot at some endorsement opportunities.

15 was enough for one quarterback, but Jeff Garcia’s 15 completions could not extend Philadelphia’s season. The Eagles fell 27-24 to the sentimental favorite New Orleans Saints. Garcia filled in admirably after Donovan McNabb’s season-ending injury in November. Including last weekend’s elimination of the New York Giants, Garcia had won six starts in a row. The run amazed golf fans, who did not believe that a Garcia could win on Sundays. The QB also provided inspiration to the 76ers and Flyers, who these days can only dream of winning six games in a six-week period.

Ultimately, Garcia’s team was doomed by allowing 15 rushing first downs to the Saints. Deuce McAllister ran for 143 yards and a touchdown. He also scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown on an 11-yard reception late in the third quarter. In leading the victory, McAllister gave the greatest running performance by a Saint since John the Baptist broke the four-minute mile.

The number 15 also hurt the Eagles in two punting situations. Late in the first half, Philly had a clear path to a blocked punt, when Saints punter Steve Weatherford stepped aside and ran 15 yards for a first down. More crucially, the Eagles chose to punt on 4th-and-15 with under two minutes remaining in the game and never regained possession. Coach Andy Reid’s decision not to go for it is sure to face widespread second-guessing. Fortunately, he coaches in Philly, where the always-upbeat media will focus on his five division titles and reassure him, “Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all, Andy. We still think you’re swell!”

Indeed, 15 was an unlucky number for the Eagles in the Louisiana Superdome. On one previous occasion, the franchise had experienced a bitter playoff loss in that venue. It was a 27-10 defeat to the Oakland Raiders - in Super Bowl XV.