Colts' Dungy Wants Refs to Enforce Rules
By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Dungy wants to play by the book.
If defenders are holding, grabbing or pushing receivers, the Indianapolis Colts (news)' coach expects it to be called. If there is incidental contact, he expects officials to give players some leeway. And if last weekend's first-round playoff games gave any indication of what can be anticipated in Round 2, Dungy will take it.
"I thought as a whole, the weekend's games were called real close to what's in the rule book," he said. "Last year, in the first round, you saw some things that gave you cause for concern."
The real test comes Sunday when New England and Indianapolis meet in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game, a contest at least partially responsible for NFL officials making defensive holding and illegal contact a season-long point of emphasis.
How much it has helped is debatable. Scoring and passing numbers are up this season. But two-time MVP Peyton Manning and his record-setting receivers have downplayed the impact the new rules interpretations have had on Indianapolis' high-scoring offense.
"I don't think it's had any affect on us," Manning said last month.
In the playoffs, rules interpretations can change. Officials are sometimes faulted for allowing players to get away with more.
That might have been the case in last year's conference title game, which New England won 24-14. Only seven penalties were enforced that day, but all were for false starts, offside or delay of game.
None occurred after the ball was snapped even though replays routinely showed Colts receivers being wrestled to the ground or locked up as they tried to run past defenders.
Dungy said Monday that was not the reason the Colts lost last year, but the league still decided to crack down on the physical play.
Will it make a difference? "Nothing changes how we play," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "It's not going to make us be less physical or less aggressive against this team."
But it could force a tactical change in New England's decimated secondary. The Patriots (14-2), winners of two of the last three Super Bowls, will be without last year's starting cornerbacks, Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, both on injured reserve and out for the season.
So New England must use a combination of rookie Randall Gay, second-year players Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson, third-year veteran Earthwind Moreland and Troy Brown, a wide receiver who has been doubling as cornerback this year.
Still, the Patriots are one of the few defenses that makes the Colts' high-scoring offense squirm. New England has won five straight over the Colts, eight straight in Foxboro, Mass., and the Pats have done it by making the big plays seem routine.
In November 2003, the Colts rallied from a 21-point third-quarter deficit and were in position to win until McGinest got free around the right side of the line and tackled Edgerrin James in the backfield on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
In the AFC title game, the Patriots picked off Manning four times, sacked him four more times and shut out the Colts in the first half.
In the 2004 season opener, Manning again played his poorest game of the year. He completed 16 of 29 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, but a 13-yard sack that Manning took on the Colts' final offensive play proved the difference. Mike Vanderjagt was forced to try a 48-yard field to send the game into overtime and it went wide right.
The Patriots learned from that game they can still play physically — with a risk.
"If you come up there and they get behind you, then you are looking at big plays," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "The closer you get to the line of scrimmage, the more the ball is going over your head. It is as simple as that."
If the Patriots dare the Colts to throw deep, Manning will take his chances.
As long as the rules are enforced, so will Dungy.
"I think the refs sent a message last week," Dungy said. "They're going to call them like they have been calling them and that's all you can ask."