Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Clark emerges as top playoff receiving threat

By Mike Chappell
January 30, 2007

You'll excuse Dallas Clark if he takes a deep breath and really, really savors the moment.

It's one that culminates Sunday in Miami's Dolphin Stadium when the Indianapolis Colts meet the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. It's one that Clark has played a major role in as quarterback Peyton Manning's go-to, gotta-have-it receiver during postseason wins over Kansas City, Baltimore and the New England Patriots.

But it's a moment that, in late November, was the furthest thing from Clark's mind.

"Yeah," the veteran tight end said, "I feel very blessed. The Lord works in mysterious ways. The game can be taken away from you so fast, with an injury, being cut, not doing a good job, whatever."

In Clark's case, it was an injury. At the end of a 4-yard reception against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 26, Clark's right knee was driven into the turf. He grabbed it immediately. Team doctors rushed onto the field and the initial prognosis wasn't encouraging.

"I went out on the field and they told me it looks like an (anterior cruciate ligament)," coach Tony Dungy said.

The team was poised to place Clark on the injured reserve list the following Tuesday, ending his season. But Arthur Rettig, one of the team's orthopedic surgeons, intervened with encouraging words.

"Doc Rettig calls back and said, 'I wouldn't put him on IR yet. It may not be where he requires surgery,'" Dungy recalled.

Five weeks later, Clark was back on the field in the regular-season finale against Miami. His knee was stable, and his performance has been striking.

"I'm just trying to get open and hopefully get some balls thrown to me," Clark said. "It's something new for tight ends. We don't necessarily get the ball thrown to us too many times when you have Marv and Reg doing their thing."

That would be Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, normally Manning's first and second options. They haven't been neutralized in the three playoff wins -- a combined 25 catches for 289 yards and one touchdown -- but neither have they taken over games.

Clark has.

With so much attention paid on the outside to Harrison and Wayne, Clark has exploited the vulnerable middle and linebacker coverage. He leads the team with 17 receptions, 14 of which have produced first downs. He leads all postseason receivers with 281 yards.

The enormity of Clark's contributions can't be overstated. Consider the Colts have had only 11 100-yard receiving games in their postseason history. Clark has accounted for three. Hall of Famer Lenny Moore had two, Harrison and Hall of Famer Raymond Berry one each.

"You work so hard all year and your job is to be there when your number's called," Clark said. "I'm just glad I've been in the right spot at the right time and made some plays."

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