For the first eight seasons of his career, it seemed as if Peyton Manning could just not win the games that mattered most. During the 2006 season, though, Manning finally got over the hump as the Indianapolis Colts won Super Bowl XLI. Manning, of course, had a great year in 2006, and so did the Colts’ offense, but one former teammate was the main reason why he and the Colts won that Super Bowl title. That teammate was safety Bob Sanders.
Peyton Manning and the Colts were good despite a bad defense
The Indianapolis Colts always seemed to be Super Bowl contenders when Peyton Manning was their quarterback. The 2006 season was no different. The Colts started 9-0 that year and the offense was, of course, one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Overall, the Colts were second in the NFL that season in scoring as they scored an average of 26.7 points per game. Manning certainly put up big statistics too. Throwing for 4,397 yards, Manning led the entire NFL with 31 touchdown passes in 2006 compared to only nine interceptions.
During the last seven games of the season, though, the Colts struggled. They ultimately went 3-4, finishing with a 12-4 overall record, and they dropped to the three seed in the AFC playoffs. A big reason they struggled so much was because of their defense. The Colts could not stop the run that season. They allowed 173 rushing yards per game, the most in the NFL. They also allowed 2,768 total rushing yards that year, also the most in the NFL.
During Week 14 of that season, fans really began to worry if they could even win a playoff game that year. In a 44-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts allowed the Jaguars to rush for 375 yards and four touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 166 yards, Fred Taylor ran for 131, and Alvin Pearman ran for 71 yards. It seemed like the Colts were just falling apart.
Bob Sanders was one of the best players in the NFL
Safety Bob Sanders had a great career in seven seasons with the Colts. Sanders was a two-time Pro Bowl honoree, a two-time first-team All-Pro, and he was the 2007 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year.
However, he almost always dealt with injuries due to his hard-hitting playing style. Sanders only played in 48 total games in seven seasons with the Colts. Additionally, the fact that he only played in four games during the 2006 regular season was a big reason the Colts’ defense struggled that year.
Sanders played in 15 games the next season, as he won the Defensive Player of the Year award, and the Colts’ defense was drastically better. They only allowed 1,711 total rushing yards and 106.9 rushing yards per game in 2007. Sanders transformed the Colts’ defense from one of the worst to one of the best. This did not just happen between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, though. It also happened in the 2006 playoffs.
Sanders is a big reason Manning and the Colts won Super Bowl XLI
After only playing in four games during the entire regular season, Sanders returned for the playoffs in 2006. Once Sanders returned, the Colts’ defense went from awful to great. After allowing the league-worst 173 rushing yards per game during the regular season, the Colts only allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to run for 44 yards in the Wild Card Round. They then held the Baltimore Ravens to 83 rushing yards in the Divisional Round and the New England Patriots to 93 rushing yards in the AFC Championship Game.
The only game the Colts’ defense allowed a team to run for over 100 yards in the playoffs was in the Super Bowl. It still wasn’t nearly as bad as their regular season performances, though. The Chicago Bears ran for 111 yards in Super Bowl XLI.
Sanders was huge in the playoffs too. He had an interception in the Wild Card Round and 10 tackles in the Divisional Round. He then capped off his great playoff run with an interception in the Super Bowl, helping Peyton Manning and the Colts defeat the Bears 29-17.
Manning was, of course, big in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl. The Colts would not have even made the playoffs without him. However, he and the Colts would have never won Super Bowl XLI without Bob Sanders. He was the real MVP of the Colts’ Super Bowl run.