To win two of the biggest games of 1999, the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams both played similarly aggressive first-half football Sunday, repeatedly interspersing first-down passes with passing-down runs.

Proving that offense-minded teams can win that way that early--in an NFL game's first 30 minutes--Indianapolis got ahead of Miami by 14 points in the second quarter, when St. Louis opened a 21-point lead on Carolina.

The Rams needed a big fourth-quarter defensive play--an interception-touchdown--to hang on, 34-21, and win the NFC West title.

And the Colts needed two, long fourth-quarter field goals to beat the Dolphins, 37-34, in the most important AFC East game of the year, one in which Miami could have tied for first.

In both Miami and Charlotte, the home clubs lost because their offenses played safe, predictable football too long and came to the party too late.

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Second-Half Form Reversal

During the second half of the Indianapolis game, Miami's Dan Marino appeared to be the best quarterback on the field--as he normally is whenever his conservative coaches allow him to throw first-down passes.

Thus, the Miami crowd saw a striking second-half form reversal:

Attacking the Colts the way the Colts had earlier attacked the Dolphins, Marino caught up, 34-34, with a series of first-down passes to wide receivers Tony Martin and Oronde Gadsden that succeeded for the usual reason: On first down, their opponents played Miami to run the ball.

On one third-quarter move, Marino, who had spent much of the first half handing off to rookie running back J. J. Johnson, drove 55 yards on successive first-down passes, throwing to Gadsden for 22 yards and then to Martin for the 33-yard touchdown.

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On 2nd and 12, Manning Can't Do It

Extending a classic form reversal, Indianapolis in the second half ducked into the shell that Miami had inhabited in the first half.

Most of the time, unaccountably, the Colts asked quarterback Peyton Manning to hand off to running back Edgerrin James on first down and throw only on later downs.

In other words, for most of the second half, the Colts played conventional NFL 1999 offense, playing into the hands of a Miami defense that Coach Jimmy Johnson had built for that kind of offense.

On one series, for example, after Jimmy Johnson's fast and nimble defensive players had thrown James for a two-yard loss on first down, Manning was required to throw on second and 12.

Predictably, that pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Play-calling had changed Indianapolis' gathering rout into an even game.