The term 'must win' is overused a lot, especially when it involves football games in October and early November. Oh sure, if you are 1-4, you could make a strong argument that your next 11 games are 'must wins.' Teams that start 1-5 are not playoff teams in this NFL, unless they play in a division like the NFC West. Also, 11 wins does not guarantee a playoff spot. Ask the 2008 Patriots.
To make the playoffs, you pretty much need to win 12 games (aka, your division). Now, if your team is swept by a division opponent, the chances of you winning the division over that opponent shrink considerably. With both the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts entering last night's contest with identical 4-2 records, first place in the AFC South was very much on the line. The Texans had already won the first contest, a Week One beatdown of the Colts in Houston.
As corny as it sounds, last night's game was very much a 'must win' for the Colts. Lose, and the AFC South is a pipe dream. Win, and you've got a shot. Colts players understood the importance of this game, and agreed it was 'must win.'
Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden called the game a "must-win" situation for the defending AFC Champions.
"We respond and responded well," said Hayden, whose 25-yard interception return for a touchdown was part of an impressive effort for a defensive unit that allowed 257 yards rushing in the first meeting between the teams.
"It was definitely necessary," Colts linebacker Clint Session said. "A loss here could have been a real downer for the rest of the season."
That the Colts were able to rise to the occasion and defeat the Texans at home is a credit to their character and their leadership. This was not an injured team entering last night's contest. It is a depleted team. With further injuries to Mike Hart, Clint Session, Brody Eldridge, and Donald Brown last night, a depleted team just became exhausted. To get this win, with this many injuries, is what Colts football is all about. Hats off to the team for playing inspired, gutty football.
However, while a win is always enjoyable, the reality is this team (as it is right now) is not a Super Bowl team. Again, 2010 is Super Bowl or Bust for these Colts. Making the playoffs, and then losing in those playoffs, is akin to going 6-10. This team has made the playoffs every year since 2002. It's about Super Bowls now. Anything less is abject failure. Unless this team can get healthy, and soon, they stand a real chance of not making the post-season or, just as bad, getting to the post-season and losing their first game in it.
Again folks, I know you sometimes come here and look for things that will help you get excited for our team after a big win. In many ways, there is a lot to be excited about. But, reality trumps blind homerism here. Sure, I'm a homer and always will be. This is why I bristle when people DEMAND this site become more 'journalistic' in its coverage. However, a team can only overcome so many injuries before the lack of talent eventually catches up with them.
As we saw last night, the Houston Texans defense is truly horrible. They can't cover, tackle, or rush the QB. You saw an animated Mario Williams arguing with Texans DC Frank Bush on the sidelines last night, watching Peyton Manning and the Colts offense march up and down the field at will.
The Colts punted after a three-and-out to start the game. They didn't punt again until 4:04 left in the fourth quarter.
However, the Texans also sport the worst red zone defense in football. Yet, despite four trips inside the 20, the Colts only came away with two touchdowns; going 2-4 in red zone efficiency. Penalties, sloppy play, and a lack of quality blockers up front prevented the Colts from punching in two gimme touchdowns against a tissue-paper Texans defense.
This game should have been 31-10 by the late fourth quarter, making Arian Foster's 6-yard TD score nothing more than stat padding.
The Colts were unable to close out the contest completely due to injuries. For all his silly bravado, ESPN TV announcer Jon Gruden was correct when he voiced concern over the Colts injury situation. Against a putrid defense like the Texans, the Colts can hold on for a win. Against a team like the Steelers, or Patriots, or Saints, or Ravens... different story.
But not all is doom and gloom, and I really want to emphasize that despite all the injuries, I'm proud of how this team responded after the bye week. Later on, Matt Grecco will post the numbers from the game. Right now, here are some general observations:
- I'm not ready to call Donald Brown a bust, but he's getting close. Mike Hart ran for 84 yards on 12 carries. Behind the exact same offensive line, Brown ran for 16 yards on 9 carries. Hart looked decisive and ran tough. Brown looked hesitant, and seemed to get tackled by his own blockers on nearly every run. At this point, it's pretty clear that Hart has supplanted Brown as the back-up to Joseph Addai. Hart is a 6th round pick. Brown is a 1st rounder. You have to expect more from people drafted in round one, and the fact the he has lost his back-up job to a player like Hart means Brown is steadily looking like another Tony Ugoh for Bill Polian.
- During the pre-season, we noted that Jacob Tamme's biggest problem was that Dallas Clark played for the Colts. With Dallas on this team, there was no chance Tamme would ever get to showcase his excellent pass catching skills. With Clark now gone for 2010, the silver-lining is that a player like Tamme is given an opportunity to step up and shine. Last night, Tamme did. 6 catches for 64 yards and a TD.
- The screen-TD for Reggie Wayne was set-up by a great block via Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzo also had a nice 34-yard grab in the second half. The downside is, once again, Gonzo got hurt. No word yet on the extent of the injury. The guy simply is not tough enough to play professional football. It's just that simple.
- The Colts used Philip Wheeler on several pass rushing situations, including as a down lineman. He generated zero pressure. Wheeler lost his starting SAM backer job to rookie Pat Angerer. Angerer didn't do much last night, and the Texans still ran the football at will (4.9 a carry).
- Two 'no name' players who stepped up were Blair White and Justin Tryon. White handled punts very well, and Tryon might be a better cover corner than Kelvin Hayden right now. Hayden did a great job on the pick six in the second quarter, but he got schooled later in the game on Andre Johnson's 28-yard TD.
- Aaron Francisco is terrible. Just terrible. He was late helping Hayden on the Andre Johnson TD, and he totally whiffed on a tackle that allowed Arian Foster to score late in the fourth. I understand why Francisco is in there, but I cannot believe we can't find somebody better.
- I was shocked Matt Schaub got up after Clint Session DESTROYED him on that sack in quarter two. Session was a beast last night.
- Last night the Colts unleashed Jerry Hughes. He got one tackle and caused a 15 yard face mask penalty. Hughes is a disappointment so far. Anyone saying otherwise is not facing up to reality or is carrying water for the Colts. First round picks need to make an immediate impact in some way. Hughes simply has not measured up thus far.
- Ho-hum. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri goes 3-3, including a 48-yarder. He's 13-15 this year, with one of those misses being a blocked kick.
Daniel Muir has really regressed. Texans were blowing him off the ball all night.
- Very proud of how well this offensive line is run blocking. 107 yards last night. Nice work, men.
- After the game, Manning said one of the biggest disappointments was the penalties. 9 for 69 yards. Penalties always reflect badly on the coach, and this year the Colts have been especially sloppy in terms of penalties. 9 penalties will not hurt you too bad beating teams like the Texans. Against the truly premiere teams, those things lose you ball games.
- Speaking of Manning, the block he threw on Pierre Garcon's improvised screen was hilarious. Garcon caught everything thrown at him that was catch-able last night, snagging 7 passes for 78 yards. Nice way to step up, kid.
The Colts are 5-2 and are tied with the Steelers for the second best record in the AFC, behind the 6-1 Patriots. If the Colts want to have any hope of catching the Pats, they need to heal up. The Colts cannot afford to lose players like Brody Eldridge, who left in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. Health is now the #1 priority for this football team.
However, it's better to be an unhealthy 5-2 than a healthy 2-5. And in a 'must win' situation like last night, the Colts responded with a big win. Go Colts!