Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Clark raises the bar

By Mike Chappell

December 14, 2008

He sets game, season receiving records for a Colts TE

The Detroit Lions got Dallas Clark's attention in the first quarter, then the Indianapolis Colts veteran tight end spent the rest of Sunday afternoon extracting some serious payback.

The best game of his career and one of the best by a tight end in Colts history included 12 receptions, 142 yards and one touchdown. All were instrumental in Indy sidestepping an upset bid by Detroit and stretching its winning streak to seven games with a 31-21 victory.

The banner day began with a bang.

Clark's first reception was a 4-yarder. He ran an underneath crossing route, and ran smack dab into linebacker Ryan Nece, who wrapped him up and planted him into the turf.

"I was happy I was able to hold onto the ball,'' Clark said. "Those are good ones. That's all you can tell those guys -- 'Nice shot' -- and just try to find your mouthpiece and go back to work.''

Which he did.

Detroit relied heavily on its cover-2 defense, keeping safeties Daniel Bullocks and Kalvin Pearson deep to limit quarterback Peyton Manning's deep opportunities to Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.

"The tight end has the chance to work some of the holes in there against cover-2,'' coach Tony Dungy said. "We see (the cover-2) a lot in practice. Our guys know how to work against it and Dallas did a good job.

"That's what they gave us today and we did a good job of taking it.''

Clark's 12 receptions were a personal high, two shy of tying Harrison's single-game club record. It was the first time a Colts tight end caught at least 10 passes in a game. His 63 catches on the season break his own club record for a tight end, set last season when he had 58. Clark's 142 yards also were a personal best and upped his season output to 684, eclipsing his career high of 616 set last season.

There was nothing beforehand to indicate Clark would emerge as an offensive focal point.

"It's not really like that,'' Manning said.

Any one of his options, he added, can generate big numbers, depending upon how the defense reacts. It might be Wayne, who finished with seven catches for 104 yards; Harrison, who moved into the No. 3 slot in NFL history with 1,095 receptions; Anthony Gonzalez or one of the running backs.

Or Clark.

Everybody's eligible, and on alert.

"We have no token routes,'' Manning said. "Every player on every pass play is a live option because the ball could come to them. That's why everybody runs full-speed routes and puts a lot of pressure on the defense.

"They were kind of mixing some zone and some man (coverage) and Dallas did a great job versus zone -- catching the ball, getting yards after the catch. And a couple of times they did play man, he did a good job of beating man coverage.''

Two of Clark's receptions -- the longest and the shortest -- earned Manning's postgame praise.

Clark gave the Colts a 21-10 lead late in the second quarter by finding a soft spot in the Lions defense in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. He had four catches for 57 yards on the eight-play, 78-yard drive.

"That touchdown was outstanding, getting his feet inbounds,'' Manning said.

Late in the fourth quarter, Clark helped position the Colts for Adam Vinatieri's 31-yard field goal with a 31-yard reception to the Detroit 31. He beat coverage by Pearson.

"Great catch on that last series, kind of a back-shoulder seam throw,'' Manning said.

And just think, no one really saw it coming.

"Every game kind of has its own personality,'' Clark said. "Especially with the weapons that we have, you never know what defenses are going to do, who they're going to try to stop.

"You could tell that the focus was on Marvin and Reg. I'm just glad I was able to step up like that and make some catches.''

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