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Back in the saddle again // AFC

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Turns out it wasn't a slipper after all. This season, Cinderella wears a horseshoe.

The Indianapolis Colts capped an upsetting NFL weekend Sunday, knocking off the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs 10-7 in an AFC divisional playoff game. The Chiefs, owners of the league's best record, turned the ball over four times and missed three field goals, stunning a Kansas City playoff-record crowd of 77,594.

The suddenly captivating Colts, who earned their way to their first AFC title game in 24 years, were a 10-point underdog and were playing on a field that has been the NFL's toughest on visitors the past four years. By the end of the day, however, the Colts had turned Arrowhead Stadium into Hang-your-head Stadium.

"Not bad for a bunch of ragamuffins," said Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. "We're just a bunch of ragamuffins, but we believe in ourselves and we have for a long time. It just goes to show you, there's no magic secrets for what we're doing. We just keep coming back."

In truth, the Colts are headed to new and exciting places. Like next Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. Indianapolis (11-7) is a big underdog against the Steelers (12-5). The Colts, who last played in an AFC title game in January 1972, losing 21-0 at Miami, are trying to become the first seven-loss team to reach the Super Bowl since the 1979 Rams.

How long ago was that? The Rams' final obstacle before the Super Bowl was the Tampa Bay Bucs, whom they defeated 9-0 in the NFC title game.

Before Saturday, no double-digit point underdog had won a game in the NFL playoffs since the Chiefs beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. But with Green Bay's 27-17 conquest of the 10-point favorite 49ers on Saturday, this year's playoffs produced two in two days.

"We just shocked the world," Colts free safety Jason Belser yelled as he entered the winning locker room.

"Nobody wants us (in the playoffs) but us," crowed Colts general manager Bill Tobin. "We're just scrappers."

Indianapolis, playing without a pair of key starters in running back Marshall Faulk (knee) and defensive right tackle Tony Siragusa (flu), had to scrap to hang onto this one. In the final 4:12, Kansas City (13-4) mounted a final drive to tie, inserting backup quarterback Rich Gannon after starter Steve Bono's third interception.

Gannon, who had thrown just 11 passes all season after sitting out the 1994 season, moved the Chiefs close enough for kicker Lin Elliott to attempt a game-tying 42-yard field goal. But Elliott missed wide left with 37 seconds left.

"I didn't attack it the way I wanted to," said Elliott, who also missed from 35 and 39 yards. "But if you don't miss the first two, you don't have to make the last one. I have no excuses."

The game was a frosty affair, played in temperatures that registered 11 degrees at kickoff, with an 8-mile-per-hour breeze that created a minus-9 degree wind-chill factor. The Colts in consecutive weeks have now played in the warmth of San Diego and the Arrowhead ice box.

"Everybody's saying we're the easy (win)," Colts cornerback Eugene Daniel said. "Everybody's saying we can't play in the cold weather. We're a dome team. We can't play on grass. We just keep on fighting and keep on believing, and it paid off today."

Indianapolis intercepted three passes _ one each by Daniel, linebacker Quentin Coryatt and cornerback Ashley Ambrose _ and recovered a Tamarick Vanover fumble. Indianapolis had just one turnover, an interception. Ironically, K.C. led the NFL in turnover ratio, with a plus-12.

But by the time Kansas City tossed its third interception, the partisan crowd had gone from chanting Bono to "Oh-no."

The Colts, who trailed 7-0 late in the first quarter, got their points on a 5-yard Harbaugh pass to Floyd Turner in the second quarter and a 30-yard Cary Blanchard field goal in the third. Kansas City's lone highlight was Bono's 20-yard TD pass to Lake Dawson.

The Colts made it 7-7 with an 18-play march that consumed 77 yards and 8:40. Indianapolis kept coming up clutch on the drive, converting five third downs and a fourth and 1 from the Chiefs' 38.

"We were just totally winging it," Harbaugh said. "Flying by the seat of our pants on that drive."

In other words, a good description for the Colts' entire season.

"We've been in a lot of these type of games, where they're close and they have a lot of meaning," Harbaugh said. "I really don't even look at the scoreboard anymore. I know what the score is obviously, but I just keep playing."

So will the Colts.