Football coaches have a tendency to get too cute with their play-calling, and they’re sometimes afraid to run the same play multiple times in a game (and in some cases, even afraid to run a specific play multiple times in an entire season). If it’s working, why not use the play again until the defense shows they can stop it? Or force the defense to be so mindful of that play that you have them positioned poorly for a different play out of the same formation.
Tony Dungy — also a Hall of Famer — was Manning’s head coach in Indianapolis from 2002-08, and he told a great story to Chris Simms on the latest “Unbuttoned” podcast (Dungy and Simms are each NFL analysts for NBC Sports).
According to Dungy, Manning ran the same play 12 consecutive times vs the New England Patriots in the opening game of the 2004 NFL season.
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) August 5, 2022
“We played the Patriots in the opening game of the ’04 season. They weren’t going to let us throw. So, they played this 3-4, umbrella defense, two deep safeties. And we ran 14 Gut, which is just Edgerrin James up the right guard. Peyton called it 12 times in a row. And we were just plus-four, plus-three, plus-six, plus-four.”
Now, looking at the play-by-play log on Pro Football Reference of that game — if it’s indeed the Sept. 9, 2004 game as Dungy suggested — would question the accuracy of Dungy’s statement.
There was a stretch in which the Colts ran the ball nine straight times (five carries for James, four carries for Dominic Rhodes), and that served as an entire drive (which ended on a Rhodes three-yard touchdown run).
On the Colts’ ensuing drive, Manning threw a 64-yard pass to Dallas Clark, before handing the ball off to James two more times and then throwing a pass to Marvin Harrison.
So, there were nine consecutive running plays, which were part of a stretch that featured 11 of 12 plays being hand-offs. It’s also possible that Manning initially called a running play and audibled to what turned into a pass to Clark.
Whatever the case, it’s indeed a lot of consecutive running plays (and 11 of 12 straight, if not 12 of 12), and it’s understandable if Dungy didn’t remember the exact details correctly about a regular-season game from 18 years ago.
Oh, and the Colts lost this game to the Patriots, 27-24 (highlights here). Mike Vanderjagt — definitely not Manning’s favorite kicker — missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds. The Patriots also went on to beat the Colts in the AFC Divisional Round that season, before winning their third Super Bowl title in the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era.