Wednesday, December 26, 2007
By Larry Weisman
December 24, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS — Dallas Clark does not pretend to be an expert in genealogy, but he knows a little bit about his lineage.
Clark's six receptions and two touchdowns in Sunday's 38-15 victory by the Indianapolis Colts against the Houston Texans exemplified the evolution at his position that began with John Mackey. Clark erased two of Mackey's single-season records for a Colts tight end, with his 57th reception and 11th touchdown.
Coach Tony Dungy said he mentioned Clark's achievements in the locker room after the Colts' sixth consecutive victory raised their record to 13-2, and "not a lot of our young guys remember John Mackey. But to me, that's the gold standard."
Mackey, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, played for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1971 and finished his career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972. Mackey's receiving skills and speed changed the way his position was played, letting tight ends become receivers as well as blockers. He made five Pro Bowls and missed only one game in 10 seasons. Clark, a five-year veteran, did not need to be told about Mackey, 66, or his importance in NFL history.
"I was fortunate enough to meet him. I won the Mackey Award (given to the top Division I-A tight end) my last year at Iowa. He's a very great man, very passionate about the game," Clark said.
With the Colts unable to move up or down in the playoff pecking order — they're the AFC's No. 2 seed and have a first-round bye — they weren't willing to risk too many injuries in a game they needed mostly for fine-tuning. So when receiver Anthony Gonzalez (bruised foot) and tight end Ben Utecht (shoulder) went out, the passing game looked to Clark and Reggie Wayne (10 catches for 143 yards).
Clark's two touchdown receptions came from close in (6 yards, 11 yards) in the second quarter and gave the Colts a 24-7 lead against the overmatched Texans (7-8).
Clark also had a 15-yard run on a fourth-and-2 play from Houston's 31 on the first drive of the third quarter to set up Clifton Dawson's 4-yard run for a score.
"It's kind of like backyard football. In the NFL, you're not supposed to do that and we don't run a lot of trick plays," Clark said.
The Colts did not indulge in much other gimmickry. They worked some of their younger players into the lineup to ease the load on starters and six players had at least one rushing attempt. Peyton Manning and Jim Sorgi, who relieved early in the fourth quarter, combined to complete passes to eight receivers. The balance was unbeatable: 31 rushes, 31 completed passes.
"We had a couple of big drives there," Manning said. "We didn't have good field position and any time you can go the whole way it can be kind of deflating for a defense."
The Colts kicked a field goal on their first possession and then scored touchdowns on two 92-yard drives. In the second half, they covered 78 and 66 yards on consecutive possessions to thoroughly deflate the Texans (7-8). They were inside the Houston 20-yard line six times, with five trips resulting in touchdowns.
"That was a point of emphasis," coach Tony Dungy said. "It was good to see us get some things done in the red zone."
Better to get them done now. The Colts host the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale, then have two weeks to get ready for their first playoff game. They'll decide later in the week how many of their starters will play, and for how long, against the Titans.
"We'll take a look at it," Dungy said. "There are things we still want to do better."