Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sanders Inspires Defense

Safety's return from knee injury makes big impact

November 7, 2006
By Phil Richards and Mike Chappell

Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders had two full practices in six weeks to get ready for his return to the Indianapolis Colts lineup Sunday night in Foxborough, Mass. One wonders what he might do when he's fully prepared.

Sanders contributed a team-high 11 tackles, intercepted a Tom Brady pass at the Indianapolis 3-yard line and energized the much-criticized defense as the Colts beat the New England Patriots 27-20.

"We know what we can do," said Sanders, who had missed the previous five games while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. "It's just when we get opportunities, we have to make them. We got a lot of opportunities and we made them."

The Colts had a season-high five takeaways, four of them interceptions.

Sanders' impact was most evident during a head-on third-quarter collision with Patriots running back Laurence Maroney. It was the biggest hit of the game.

Maroney is 5-11, 220 pounds, and as he pounded toward right guard, Sanders streaked in from the Colts' right side and launched. Maroney dropped like a rock for a 2-yard loss.

Colts coach Tony Dungy was dubious when he sent Sanders out to test the knee during pre-game work with assistant coaches Alan Williams and Leslie Frazier and director of rehabilitation Aaron Barill.

Sanders had practiced only once all week, and at 6:48 p.m., Dungy still had no word. The coach had to turn in his list of eight inactive players at 6:50 and he expected Sanders to be on it, but Sanders wanted to play, insisted he could play. The decision was made. Sanders played the entire game.

As Sanders headed for the locker room after the game, team president Bill Polian sought him out, put his arm around him and gave him a big hug. The Colts were glad to have their difference-making safety back.

"The defense is really designed with him in mind," Dungy said. "We have a lot of defenses where he's the free hitter and that free hitter has to make the tackles, and when he's making them, they're 3- and 4-yard gains instead of 6- and 7-yard gains. That changes the whole complexion of the defense, but more than anything, I think, is the energy he brings us and the confidence.

"He lifts everybody's play."

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