The Indianapolis Colts are on a losing streak.
For the first time since October of 2002, this team has lost three games in a row. Amazing statistic, isn't it? In Tony Dungy's first season as head coach, the Colts started 4-1 and things looked promising. They then posted three straight loses against the Steelers, Redskins, and Titans respectively. Things looked lost back then.
The season was turned around after a dominant win in Philadelphia against the Eagles. This game marked Dwight Freeney's first start in the NFL, and he made an immediate impact. The Colts would finish the season 6-2, and make the playoffs (only to get waxed by the Jets 41-0).
Now, eight years, six AFC South titles, two AFC Championships, and a Super Bowl trophy later the Colts find themselves back to what they were in 2002: Flawed, 'soft,' turnover prone, and over-reliant on Peyton Manning.
Here's another bit of bookend poetry for you: The current run of the Indianapolis Colts (eight years of at least 11 wins) arguably started on that famous Monday Night Football game in 2003 at Tampa Bay when the Colts missed a field goal in OT only to be given another chance because of a 'leverage' penalty on Buccaneers lineman Simeon Rice. The Colts made the second attempt, and won the game. Yesterday, the Colts hold the Cowboys to a field goal in under two minutes only to give Dallas a fresh set of downs after Eric Foster was called for a 'leverage' penalty while trying to block the kick. Dallas scored a touchdown three plays later, and converted on a two-point attempt.
Just something to throw out there.
The finger-pointing and the 'who is to blame' talk will happen when this team hits the off-season. Right now, it's pointless. We know the offensive line is a disgrace. We know Donald Brown can't run the football. We know Fili Moala and Daniel Muir are terrible interior DTs. We know Aaron Francisco makes David Gibson look like Ronnie Lott. To retread over these same problems again and again is just to throw gasoline on a man on fire.
But, because it's my job to recap these games as best I can, we'll use this column to focus on a few key things that, for good or worse, I noticed during the game.
- I'm very happy for Taj Smith. His blocked punt for a touchdown turned that game, and if anyone on the special teams had recovered the fumble he caused during the kick return following Javarris James tying the game, the Colts win. Taj Smith would be hailed as a hero this morning. But, because the Colts lost, his efforts are largely forgotten. This bullet is a shout out to Taj. Nice work, kid.
- For all the crap people gave Pierre Garcon in the beginning of the season for dropping passes, it is only fitting that your ire turn to Reggie Wayne. If not, you folks are hypocrites. In overtime, Peyton Manning hit him in the chest with an easy first down. Wayne dropped it. He's dropped several balls this year, often blaming the lights in the stadium. If the Colts convert that first, they likely win. Because Reggie dropped it, they didn't.
- I really wish Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian would get on the same page. Last week, Polian said Philip Wheeler was going to remain the starter at SAM backer. But, this Sunday, Pat Angerer started. Then, throughout the course of the game, we saw Angerer, Wheeler, and Tyjuan Hagler at certain points all playing SAM backer. So frustrating.
- Just FYI: Last year Antonio Johnson was a starting DT for the Colts defense. Prior to them quitting before Week Sixteen, the Colts allowed only 104 rushing yards a game. They held six opponent under 100 yards. This year, for reasons that still are not explained, Fili Moala 'won' the starting job at DT over Johnson after training camp. The Colts are surrendering 142 rushing yards a game, and have held only two opponents under 100 yards all season. Just throwing that out there.
- Jerry Hughes. Did he even see the field yesterday? This is a first round pick folks.
- I give a lot of credit to Justin Tryon. He was battling to help this team both on defense and in returning kicks. Blocking on special teams was terrible. Supposedly, Brandon James was cut because he was the issue, not the blocking.
- Javarris James is money running the ball around the goal-line. Five rushing TDs in eight games, all from inside the five yard line. Tough kid. Edgerrin is likely very proud.
- Second game in a row where Pierre Garcon played well. The light seems to have gone back on for this kid.
- During the FOX broadcast, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (who, I thought, did a fine job calling the game) made a point during a break to talk about a production meeting conversation they had with Peyton Manning prior to the game. Peyton told them that, with Howard Mudd gone and Tom Moore taking a backseat to new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, Peyton himself has needed to take on the role as 'heavy' for the team. In the past, it was Moore and Mudd who got in people's faces when they screwed up. Now, Peyton has to do it. Upon hearing this, I thought, If there was ever an indictment as to the utter ineptness of Christensen and offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars, that statement was it.
- I continue to marvel at how good and tough Jacob Tamme is. He's no Dallas Clark, but to run routes like that and snare passes out of the sky like that with his back injury is the definition of 'football warrior.'
- Antoine Bethea had 15 tackles today. He's the only person in the secondary who earns his money.
Finally, let's just say it: Peyton Manning is playing like dog meat now. He knows it. We know it. during his press conference after the game (again, notice how he always shows up and faces the music, win or lose? It's called 'leadership.' Look it up, and you see a pick of Big P's face) Peyton essentially said that he is forced into making 'aggressive throws' because the only way this team can move the ball is by throwing it.
Now, some argue that if an offense cannot move the ball, then just play 'Dungy Ball' and run, run, throw, punt and let your defense win the game for you.
Well, when your defense is surrendering 217 yards rushing at 4.7 a carry, and allowing the opponent to convert 53% of their third downs, 'Dungy Ball' don't work. One must be able to play defense if one is to employ a defensive game management philosophy, and right now this defense is overpaid and over-rated.
This is who we are folks. This is our team.
We can't run. We can't stop anyone. I know people are pointing to the return of Bob Sanders, saying that this all parallels the 2006 season. Maybe. But there was more to 2006 than Bob Sanders. Peyton wasn't throwing picks for TDs in 2006. The offensive line had Tarik Glenn, Jake Scott, and Ryan Lilja in 2006. Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes in 2006 were better than Donald Brown and Mike Hart today. 2006 had Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, and a Reggie Wayne who didn't drop gimme third down passes.
This isn't 2006. Different team. Different coach. Different everything.
The Colts are at .500 in December for the first time in a long while. The last time this team was near 6-6 in December was 2001, Jim Mora's last season as head coach. The Colts finished that year 6-10. I hope to god we don't repeat that cycle this year, because if we do I think Jim Irsay needs to consider cleaning house. For now, Jim Caldwell has four games to prove he's worth a damn to this franchise. The Colts must win out to make the post-season.
Three against division opponents. The season is now four games, and Indy must win every single one of them. Not an easy job, but this is why coaches are paid all that money. It's their job to make the impossible possible, because if they can't someone else will.