Before we get into stats, observations, and general knick-knacks about last night's 30-28 win over the Titans, you all should take a moment to watch Peyton Manning's post-game interview on the set of NFL Network. The interview is pure Manning gold, with hilarious moments and funny quotes from a guy who, quite fairly, has been run through the ringer these last three weeks after throwing 11 INTs, four returned for TDs.
But the one constant about Big P when he is struggling is that there is always that bounce back game, and the game happens when the Colts need it most.
Part of a fan's job (and their god given right) is to see what is and isn't working and then to cheer the positive while booing the negative. We're the critics in the crowd. That's the role we play. But when players start being critical of one another, when there is finger-pointing, that is usually when seasons go south. Last night, there was no finger-pointing. There was team accountability, a word Peyton says he very much believes in.
Manning: Like I said, these guys, Blair White, Javarris James, Jacob Tamme, if you had told me these guys would be playing at the beginning of the season, I would say that's probably not good for us. But, these guys are learning. So, it's my job and our job to help them. I think, as a veteran, it doesn't do any good to blame anybody. It's not about whose fault it is. It's about how you handle it, and how you fix it. so, I've been trying hard to fix it Deion (Steve Mariucci laughs). I've been grinding.
Last night, in a game Peyton Manning described as one of four playoff games the Colts must win to close out their regular season, the slumping Colts came out strong and finished strong against a Titans team that was just as desperate as they were.
Manning told one-time teammate and fellow Louisiana native Marshall Faulk that this four-game playoffs was like state high school football.
This kinda reminds me of high school. This reminds me of Louisiana high school playoffs, Marshall. Carver and Newman. Yeah, I think we're in a four-game playoffs. This was a playoff game tonight.
The Colts started this 'playoff game' white hot, jumping out to a 21-0 lead while taking advantage of two early Titans turnovers. One was a fumble by Kenny Britt, forced by Dwight Freeney. The other was a punt snap over the head of punter Brett Kern, recovered by recent special teams demon Taj Smith. The Colts scored touchdowns off both turnovers, and that, in a nutshell, was the game.
The contest would have been a Patriots v. Jets style beatdown ala Monday night had the Colts defense decided to play in the second half. While Peyton Manning and his coaches are likely focusing on words like 'we' and 'us,' it's been clear to the fans that all that talk is meaningless unless this overpaid defense can actually stop somebody from running the football, converting third downs, and scoring in the redzone.
The Titans had gone nearly 15-straight quarters without a touchdown going into last night's game. Their offense is putrid. Shutdown phenom runningback Chris Johnson (and with a speedy, Tampa-2 defense, that is the expectation) and the Titans offense simply wilts. But the Colts defense allowed CJ to account for nearly 200 yards of offense, and they simply forgot about covering Bo Scaife, the Tennessee tight end.
The Titans closed the gap to 21-14 in the third quarter, but thanks to Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon, Adam Vinatieri, and some tough running from Javarris James (who might have just leap-frogged Donald Brown on the depth chart), the Colts were able to keep up the pressure and seal the win.
Also, just FYI: Had the Colts blown a 21-point lead and lost last night's game, I don't see how Jim Caldwell and Larry Coyer would have kept their jobs after the season. Both owe a big, sloppy kiss to #18, who keeps their 2011 employment hopes alive another week.
Here are some other observations:
- Another game, another instance of Blair White running the wrong route. This time, he screwed up so royally everyone saw it. White is a good kid, but the Colts need Austin Collie back, and then some.
- Like Stampede Blue writer Colin McCollough, I'm starting to become a big Justin Tryon fan. He's a better corner than Jacob Lacey. Hell, he's a better corner than Kelvin Hayden, and makes about 1/6th what Hayden does.
- Yippee! More injuries! This time, it's to the offensive line, who have been terrible despite being reasonably healthy all year. Last night Charlie Johnson went down. Not sure what happened. Not sure I care. Jeff Linkenbach, who is a natural tackle, stepped in and played well. John Oehser reported that the Colts were considering playing Brody Eldridge at guard to close the game.
- Roughly the third game in a row where Pierre Garcon showed up and made a positive difference. His 43-yard run after catching that three yard slant was probably the play of the game. No other receiver on this roster can make moves like that. Garcon also caught two TDs in one game for the first time in his career. I know many people here are self-programmed to hate on Garcon. My advice to you if you don't like Pierre is to stop watching the Colts, because they will not win another game unless Pierre Garcon continues to play this way. Right now, other than Manning, he is the most important player in this offense because he is the only deep threat.
- Freeney ran all the way over there and forced that fumble. Yeah, he's pretty good.
Kerry Collins is a statue, and yet no sacks. Robert Mathis simply disappears when the Colts play on the road. I'd love to see his road v. home sack and pressure numbers this year. Two tackles last night. Two. This guy wants a new contract, and in a game everyone is calling a 'playoff game,' Mathis responds with two tackles. Good luck with that contract, Robert.
- Dear Larry Coyer and John Teerlinck, the d-line stunting is dumb. Stop doing it. Line-up and rush.
- For the second game in a row, Matt Grecco and I think the Colts benched Donald Brown. The excuse they are using is that he is hurt, but we don't buy that. Brown has been awful this season for any number of reasons. Javarris James came in the game and started making some things happen. In the second half, Brown was spelling James. A first round pick was spelling an undrafted rookie. Ugh.
- Adam Vinatieri was 3-3 in the second half, including a monster 47-yarder to put the game out of reach for the Titans. Supposedly, this guy was 'done.' Right now, he's arguably the best kicker in the AFC, hitting on 91% of his FG tries.
- The Colts should start Tyjuan Hagler at SAM. He's better than Philip Wheeler and Pat Angerer at that spot. Hagler had 6 tackles last night and recovered a fumble.
- The Titans were 4-4 in goal-to-goal and redzone efficiency. Had they not committed those mistakes in the first half, they blow the Colts out. Defense for Indy is playing truly terrible right now, especially on the road.
- Reggie Wayne averaged 25 yards a catch last night, and he made Cortland Finnegan his ass rag all night. Reggie is doing all this with a very injured knee. Dude is just a tough hombre.
After the game, Peyton talked about how the offense felt more three-dimensional, and how all season long the Colts have been throwing the ball too much. It's pretty clear that the issues surrounding the o-line and the running game are affecting Manning. As pissed off as you, me, and everyone else in the world is at the Colts (and possibly Bill Polian's) inability to find anyone who can block, times that frustration by 1000 and you get Peyton's level of annoyance.
Somebody asked, Are you in a slump? I said, Well, yes. Maybe I was. But, I'd been on about an eight-and-a-half year hittin' streak going into that.
But, in typical Manning form, he is isn't going to call out players. Big P can throw 11 INTs in three games and still keep slinging the ball.
It's funny, this past week everybody is telling me, hang in there. You know, I was never really 'out there,' wherever 'there' is. I've kept my head up. I've been positive. I think it has been a test of faith and working through adversity. like i said, I don't read the clips and i don't read what they say, but Tom Moore says, Hey, keep your head up. And I went, God it must be really bad tom if you're telling me to keep my head up. my head's been up.
When it comes to the Colts, I never worry about Peyton Manning. He'll always be accountable. It's why he is the best ever.
One down. Three to go.