FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Indianapolis strong safety Melvin Bullitt has a message for America.
Hey, the Colts can play defense, too.
While Bullitt doesn’t begrudge the attention given to quarterback and four-time league MVP Peyton Manning and his high-powered offense, he said it’s easy to forget the contributions the defense made to the Colts reaching Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday against New Orleans.
“You always are fighting for respect, especially on a team that has the best offense in the league,” said Bullitt, in his third year with the Colts.
“No one looks at the Colts and talks about defense. The first name you hear is Peyton Manning and then it’s Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon and you can name them on down. We are always fighting for respect within our team. It’s funny because when we get out there in practice, we feel like we have the upper hand against the best offense in the NFL. We feel like we do a pretty good job against them. Why not do it against another team?”
Bullitt played a critical role in the Colts’ 14-0 start and second Super Bowl appearance in four years. An undrafted free agent from Texas A&M in 2007, Bullitt went from special teams captain to replacing Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, who missed most of the season and is on injured reserve because of elbow and biceps injuries.
Bullitt finished the season ranked fourth on the team with 82 tackles, including the crucial stop of New England’s Kevin Faulk on fourth down in the 35-34 win in Indianapolis best remembered for Patriots coach Bill Belichick deciding to go for the first down from his 29 rather than punt.
“Bullitt’s one of those guys who makes a lot of plays,” said Colts coach Jim Caldwell. “He’s around the ball all the time. He came up with a couple of real key interceptions last year, to end drives and games.”
As an extra defensive back, Bullitt intercepted four passes in 2008, three of them final-seconds, game-saving picks, so he didn’t have much doubt that he could fill Sanders’ role.
“There are a lot of guys on our team that carry a chip on their shoulder,” Bullitt said. “We had six starters at one time this season who were undrafted free agents on defense. It shows a lot. Guys can go out there and make plays no matter who you are or what round you were picked in.”
Bullitt credited the Colts organization, headed by club president Bill Polian, last week selected NFL Executive of the Year for a record sixth time, for unearthing talent that filled in for injured starters this season.
“He just has an eye for talent in picking up guys like me and undrafted free agent (cornerback) Jacob Lacey,” Bullitt said. “He also picked up Pierre Garcon, who was a sixth-round pick now playing with the injury to Anthony Gonzalez.
“No one else wanted us. I think that shows what our scouting department does and what our management side of the building does to make us one of the best teams in the league.
“We all knew we could play. Before the season, people didn’t know Pierre Garcon was going to be the kind of player he is. No one knew I or Jacob Lacey would even make the team. We had a shot and we took advantage of it.”
The Colts may not be known for defense, but they allowed the seventh-fewest points in the league (19.2) in 2009 and permitted just 20 points in two postseason games. But they’ll be facing the league’s highest-scoring (319) team and top-ranked offense in the Saints.
“They’re similar to the Patriots’ offense, knowing they will throw the ball a lot,” Bullitt said. “It’s something we haven’t seen as much this season. A lot of teams have tested us against the run. When we played against the Arizona Cardinals (in a 31-10 win), people thought they would throw a lot because we had some guys out, but it didn’t work out that way. We had a good pass rush, and the guys on the back end did a really good job. If our secondary can make sure we read our keys and focus on the tasks at hand, I think we’ll do a good job.”
Getting to see Manning every day in practice will be good preparation for facing Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the top-rated passer in the NFL.
“In our opinion, (Brees) is the next-best quarterback in the league,” Bullitt said. “In some people’s eyes he is the best quarterback in the league. Peyton treats every practice as if it’s a game. That’s the way he takes it. Every pass is full speed. Every route the guys run is full speed, and the balls he throws are right on the money.
“With Drew Brees, it’s the exact same formula. I’m sure he practices the way he plays. That’s why he is so good.”
Bullitt, 25, is still a little awed by going to his first Super Bowl.
“I don’t think it has hit me yet, though,” he said. “Everybody is texting me and calling me. Someone told me, ‘Don’t go down there and try to play the Super Bowl. Go down there and play the Saints.’ Our whole goal is to play the Saints. If we do what we are supposed to do, I think we will be all right.”