We aren't even at the halfway mark, and if you talk to some Colts fans they will tell you they've given up on the season. For them, 3-4 now will likely result in a Wildcard spot in the playoffs (if the Colts are lucky). For them, that's lame, and they just don't think a team like that is worth their time.
These kinds of fans are what we call "bandwagoners," and I am more than happy to see them exit stage left.
As a fanbase, we are indeed very spoiled. Fans for teams like the Bengals, Lions, and 49ers would kill to be 3-4 now. And while 3-4 is not an ideal record to have going into November, it at least is a record a club can work with.
This Colts club has seen a ton of crazy things happen to them since the start of training camp. From Manning's knee to Ed Johnson's hash to John McCargo's bulging disc, it has been one head-scratcher after another. Factor in that the Colts have played virtually all of 2008 thus far without the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Bob Sanders, and one could argue it is a damn miracle the team is 3-4 and not 1-6.
Here is what I have seen as the season has progressed: The run defense is now good; the pass rush, consistent. Melvin Bullitt has emerged as a strong option at safety and a superb special teamer. The special teams themselves have developed into a tough group, covering kicks as well as anyone. Pierre Garcon looks like a strong option as a returner. Gijon Robinson, despite his oddness catching the football, is a very good blocker as a TE. Charlie Johnson, once the whipping boy for us fans, has developed into a solid OG and a vital utility player at OT. Without Charlie Johnson, Peyton Manning's season might be over with right now. Rookie Eric Foster is a tough kid who will play NT at 275 pounds and doesn't complain one lick. Tyjuan Hagler is damn good in run support. Anthony Gonzalez is a star in the making.
In addition, I see a team that does not quit. Ever. The Minnesota and Houston games proved that. I've also seen them dominate playoff caliber teams, like Baltimore. The issue with Indy has been consistency. Some want to blame it on Dungy, and make the insinuation that his family living in Florida is the reason why Peyton Manning is under throwing receivers. Hell, we've even had Bob Kravitz dig up the corpse of an excuse that utters that Tony Dungy isn't firm enough with his players, unlike Jon Gruden.
Last I checked, Jon Gruden hasn't won a playoff game in nearly six years, and Tony Dungy has beaten him twice. I wonder if Bob Kravitz drinks on the job.
Is it possible this team has tuned out coach Tony Dungy?
I'm glad you asked that question, and I hope you noticed how I used this particular literary device in such a way that I could blame the rhetorical "you" for bringing up such a touchy subject.
I think it's possible. I really do. I think today's athletes, like most of today's young people, have the attention span of a fruit fly. Pacers president Larry Bird says NBA players stop hearing a particular coach after about three years. Raiders owner Al Davis once said, in a moment of clarity, that NFL coaches lost their players after 10 years -- and he said that years ago.
What happened to Dungy in Tampa? All of his players professed love and respect for him, but when they needed to win a playoff game to possibly save his job, they got rolled by Philadelphia.
There's a reason teams go from players' coaches to authoritarians to players' coaches to authoritarians. After Dungy left Tampa, the Bucs won the Super Bowl under crazy person Jon Gruden. It makes me wonder if associate head coach Jim Caldwell, who is something of a Dungy clone, is really the right guy to take the reins when Dungy leaves, but that's another column for another time.
It is funny to read all this about three years after it was dead and buried, but considering how utterly clueless Kravitz is, I'm not surprised. If the team had tuned Dungy out, we would not have seen the Houston and Minnesota comebacks. And using an NBA analogy in the NFL makes about as much sense as me comparing Unforgiven to Blazing Saddles because they are westerns. NBA players have guaranteed contracts. They can afford to tune coaches out. You tune a coach out in the NFL and your ass is cut. It is one of the beauties of the NFL. Produce, or you are gone. That simple.
Hell, the Colts cut a guy for smoking pot! Can you imagine what they would do if if a player pulled a Vernon Davis on them?
Kravitz idiotness aside, players do not give a crap where the head coach's family lives, and there is no one more dedicated to the team than Tony Dungy. The reason this team has played inconsistent football all season is injuries. That is the reality of the 2008 season.
Monday was the seventh different offensive line combo in seven games this year. Bob Sanders has not played since Week 2. Joseph Addai has been out for weeks. The secondary was minus two starters. Tyjuan Hagler just got back into the LBer corps. Quinn Pitcock and Ed Johnson are gone. Ryan Lilja's status is still uncertain. And for the first four weeks of the season, Peyton Manning basically played on one leg.
When a team has these kinds of injuries, it is very, very difficult to get consistent productivity.
I know the "manly" thing to say is Injuries shouldn't matter. Suck it up and stop whining. Everyone deals with injuries. I think it is no surprise that the team that is 7-0 and the defending champs, who are 6-1, have suffered very few injuries. Yes, Kyle Vanden Bosch did not play Monday, and the Giants lost Osi Umenyiora in pre-season, but a great team can overcome a key injury and move forward.
Multiple injuries to multiple difference makers is a totally different story.
The reality of pro football is if you suffer too many injuries, it is going to affect your win-loss column. The positive is the Colts are finally getting healthy, and the results on the field show that a healthy Colts team is a good one. The run defense has improved, and the Colts are running the ball better themselves.
This team is good enough to get on a roll and make a strong push to get to the playoffs. Again, we are not even at the halfway point. There is a lot of football left to play, and this team is too tough, too savvy, and too talented to not get itself together. If they don't, then the 5 year playoff ride was fun. The result of a bad 2008 would mean the NFL would hand Bill Polian at top 20 pick in the first round of the draft. Last time he had something like that, he produced Dwight Freeney. While teams like Tennessee have a very unstable future ahead of them (making all this "changing of the guard" talk laughable), the Colts still have 25 players at or under the age of 25.
They are the second youngest team in football behind Kansas City, who is rebuilding.
The foundation of this club is strong enough to overcome the craziness that has beset them to start 2008, and it is strong enough to push them forward past that. So, if you have given up on 2008, no offense but you weren't really a Colts fan to begin with. It is easy to root for a team that starts September and October at 19-1 the last five years. When this team does turn around the 2008 season, we real Colts fans will welcome you back with open arms. But, real fans stick with their team through thick and thin, no matter what.
In the meantime, the best the rest of us can hope for is that our guys get back 100%. That is already starting to happen. As they get back, the team will play more consistently, and we will start to see true Colts football.