Seven and a half months ago, I knew the window for the Colts to win a Super Bowl had just been slammed shut. Tom Moore and Howard Mudd just announced they were retiring due to changes in the NFL's pension plan. It looked like Peyton Manning was going to be without the services of the offensive mastermind that helped Peyton Manning put together the offensive assault that has made him one of the most successful quarterback to ever play the game. More importantly, Peyton was losing the architect of the offensive line that shielded Peyton from every oncoming blitzer during his career.
No disrespect to Tom Moore, who deserves more credit for his role in Peyton's development into a legend, but Howard Mudd's return was more important to the Colts getting to the Super Bowl this year. All the development and planning in the world goes out the window when your offensive line doesn't give you any time to execute. In a year where there were so many question marks in the trenches and so few everywhere else, Mudd's presence was needed more than ever. Thankfully, changes were made that allowed Mudd and Moore to return to their respective positions for the 2009-10 season. But even with Mudd back in the fold, the outlook for the team's offensive line didn't improve.
In the preseason, BigBlueShoe pointed to the offensive line as the team's biggest worry after giving up seven sacks in the first two scrimmages of the season. Mudd was dealing with perhaps the least talented group he has had to coach in his time in Indianapolis. Other than Jeff Saturday, nobody on the line stands out. Tony Ugoh and Mike Pollak's slower than expected development didn't leave much room for optimism and forced a former Arena Leaguer Kyle DeVan into a starting role. It looked like Peyton Manning would have to get used to thinking on the run if the Colts were going to have a chance to succeed.
But then a funny thing happened -- nothing. The maligned squad not only played up to respectability, they had the best season of any front five in the Mudd era when it comes to protecting to quarterback. Peyton Manning was only sacked 10 times during the regular season. Not only is that the fewest number of times Manning has ever gone down in his career, but it came in a year where he had the second-most pass attempts of his career. He went down on only 1.72% of his dropbacks this season, the sixth-best single season sack percentage in NFL history.
None of the success the team enjoyed this season would have been possible without Howard Mudd. He has learned how to mold linemen of all shapes, sizes and skill levels into cohesive units throughout his 36 year career. Mudd didn't let the off-season's distractions distract him this season, taking one of his least talented groups and turning them into one of the best pass-protecting units in the history of the league.
Tomorrow night, the Colts have the opportunity to give Howard Mudd the perfect send off. Few people can leave the game of football coming off their best season as a professional and top it off by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. A victory tomorrow would give Howard Mudd a fitting ending to a spectacular career.