To help pass time this off-season, I have reviewed the Colts regular season games from 2009. With this second look at how the team played, a few thoughts have occurred to me which were not obvious during the initial viewing, and I thought it a good opportunity to rethink some of my previously held opinions of the team I love. So, with your kind indulgence, as I view a game at a time I will be sharing my impressions.
Personal Note: This is not, and was never intended to be, an objective, unbiased review of an NFL contest. It is instead a glimpse into the emotional ride experienced by the average Colts fan at game time. My Homerism switch is engaged and turned up to eleven. With that in mind, I invite you to join me as we relive the highs and lows of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts season.
Today's Game: Week 17 - Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills
Setting the Stage
- The Colts enter the final game of the regular season with a league-leading record of 14-1. Quarterback Peyton Manning is second in the league with 4,405 passing yards, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne is tied for third in the league with 1,243 yards receiving. Pierre Garçon is nursing a sore shoulder and does not play. Defensive end Dwight Freeney, kicker Adam Vinatieri, linebacker Clint Session, defensive end Robert Mathis, defensive back Jerraud Powers, and running back Chad Simpson are out with various injuries. Defensive end Ervin Baldwin, defensive tackle Eric Foster, corner back Tim Jennings, safety Aaron Francisco, and defensive end Raheem Brock get the start. Sam Giguère makes his first appearance for the Colts returning kickoffs. Several of the Colts were selected for the Pro Bowl prior to this game; among them are Reggie to his fourth, Peyton to his tenth (ties Colts great Johnny Unitas), and tight end Dallas Clark to his first. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the 5-10 Bills, who boast a defense with 26 interceptions on the year (tied for second).
- The Field: Frozen solid on a near-whiteout, wintry New York day at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. Temperature is 14 degrees with northwest winds gusting to 40 mph. That is a wind chill temperature of minus one, folks. I swear I just saw a polar bear wearing a parka in the stands.
- The Crowd: Sparse and subdued. The stands are half-empty. Or is that half-full? Either way, they are wrapped head-to-toe in cold weather gear and act like they are still recovering from the holidays.
- The Network Coverage: Bill Macatee and Steve Beuerlein of CBS. Beuerlein speculates that most of the Colts players, having had time to consider the decision, agree that resting the starters was the better approach. He also points out that the Colts' main goal is to escape this final game without injury.
Key Plays First Quarter:
- Bills go three-and-out. Man, field conditions are atrocious. Players can barely change direction, and everyone is moving at half-speed. Already, this is shaping up to be a long, slow game.
- Interception. After a short completion to Reggie Wayne, Peyton's next two passes display the futility of a Ferrari-esque team trying to play on ice. Tight end Jacob Tamme falls trying to make his cut, and the pass is easy pickings for the Buffalo defense. Manning starts one of three with an interception.
- Whoa! Defensive back Antoine Bethea with a huge hit on wide receiver Terrell Owens. Linebacker Phillip Wheeler leaps to swat the ball away just as Bethea is leveling Owens. T.O. lays on the frozen turf for a handful of tense seconds but appears to be OK. Considering the field conditions, I hope this does not become a trend.
- Touchdown, Buffalo. Running back Fred Jackson with the reception in the end zone. It is only the second touchdown given up by Indianapolis after a turnover, all season, and only the second Buffalo touchdown in their last 32 drives. Bills take the early 7-0 lead.
- Touchdown, Colts. Manning is targeting Clark and Wayne, one after the other, and it is becoming obvious he is trying to get them to the 100 reception milestone. Clark with five receptions on the drive, Wayne with five targets, three receptions. On second-and-goal from the one, running back Mike Hart follows offensive guard Ryan Lilja in for the score, and the game is tied, 7-7.
- Wayne and Clark get their 100 catches, and the pair -- and Manning -- leaves the field for good. For those who would prefer not to suffer through the remaining carnage, I will quickly summarize then meet you at the end... it sucks when the first string is not on the field. It sucks worse when the field conditions are so poor that players are slipping and sliding all over the place. Hey Buffalo, not sure if you have noticed, but it tends to freeze in January where you are. Put a roof on that stadium.
- Defensive back Jamie Silva with a great read and reaction to bat away a sure first-down. We are going to miss this guy in 2010. Then, Aaron Francisco slices through to stop the RB cold. That could have been a long run, but Aaron made a nice play and tackle. Buffalo is driving when Baldwin and Brock get penetration and stop the running back in the backfield to force a punt. Play is generally sloppy due to the field conditions, but I have to give props for the effort. There is some good hitting going on.
- And here comes second-string quarterback Curtis Painter! And there goes Curtis Painter. Let's review what happened, shall we? Running back Donald Brown for a loss of two, Brown for a gain of two, and Painter with a throw into double-coverage that has a better chance of being intercepted than completed. Colts punt. Well, that was special.
- Touchdown, Buffalo. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick finds wide receiver Lee Evans in the flat for the 21 yard touchdown. Defensive back Kelvin Hayden had decent coverage and dives for the ball but could not break up the play. Buffalo goes back on top 14-7.
- Sam Giguère takes the kickoff at the 6, finds a small opening, and takes it to the 37. Good field position for a change and the hope that Sam is a breakout returner begins in the hearts of Indy fans everywhere.
- And here comes Curtis Painter! And there goes Curtis Painter. Let's review what happened, shall we? Mike Hart turns a three-yard loss into a one-yard gain while slipping and sliding and carefully picking what might have possibly been a running lane, and a 21-yard completion to Jacob Tamme to move the Colts into the Bills territory. Then, an incompletion targeting wide receiver Austin Collie over the middle, and a fumble which is recovered by the Bills. On the fumble, offensive guard Mike Pollak totally misses his assignment, and Hart chop blocks the rushing defensive tackle. Meanwhile, Painter seems to expect Hart to take the hand-off and attempts to tuck the ball and run after realizing that Hart is on the ground. The running part Painter does OK, the tucking... yeah, not-so-much. He was untouched, but the ball slips from his hands and three or four blue-shirted Bills players pounce on it. Well, that too was special.
- Note: During that last Colts series, the umpire goes down hard. He is blindsided by a sliding Bills player and has his feet taken out from under him, hitting his head on the frozen turf. Man, that had to hurt. First Owens, and now the umpire. Seeing this guy taken out like this reinforces the decision to change the umpire's position in 2010. Whether or not the Colts offense is hurt by the change remains to be seen, but I can certainly understand the motivation behind the new rule. Play is stopped for several minutes while they check him out at mid-field. How many fingers? Eleven? OK, you are good.
- Bills touchdown. Fitzpatrick hits Owens in the same spot he hit Evans on their last possession. Hayden again with the coverage. It is now 21-7, Buffalo. Giguère muffs the resulting kickoff and has to hustle to swat the ball out of the end zone to avoid giving up a touchdown. But let's just move on, shall we?
- And here comes Curtis Painter! And there goes Curtis Painter. Again. Can we deal with another summary? I promise it will be short. The only play on this series results in an interception. Protection is good, and Collie is wide open in the middle of the field, but the pass is overthrown... a lot. Bills' ball yet again. But let's not dwell on the negatives. Let's just move on, shall we?
- Bills add a field goal. Buffalo moves the ball pretty well, but penalties force them to settle for the field goal. Haha... On the resulting 36-yard-Sam Giguère-return, the mic picks up a screaming Jeff Saturday(?) - "Nice cut, Big Sammy. I see ya, baby!" Colts ball with seven seconds on the clock and three time-outs.
- And here comes Curtis Painter! This time, there are a few boos. Thankfully, with only seven seconds to work with, expectations are not high, and watching him under-throw an open Collie on the first play and take a sack on the second is not too upsetting or surprising. The first half is over! Finally. There should be a reward for watching this.
- Bills add a field goal on their first possession of the second-half. Let's call this one "The Fred Jackson Show" - Jackson over left tackle for 3, Jackson over left tackle for 2, Jackson over left tackle (and the entire Indy defense) for 22, Jackson over right guard for 12, Jackson over right tackle for 4, and Jackson over right guard for 1. Throw in one incompletion (Hayden with good coverage on Owens), and kicker Ryan Lindell puts the Bills up by 20 early in the third. Jackson accumulates 44 rushing yards on this drive. The Colts have zero yards rushing for the entire game. I know the field is bad guys, but it is bad for the other team too, ya know?
- Hart for 15! Finally, some positive yardage and something to cheer about. Offensive tackle Tony Ugoh shoves his defender aside and leads Hart down-field. Great down-field blocking by Tamme, Giguère, and Jamey Richard plus a final Ugoh clear-out of two defenders moves the Colts near mid-field. Unfortunately, that is as far as they get. A run-for-a-loss plus two incompletions (Painter with a bad throw on one and bad use of the pocket on the other), and Pat McAfee is back on to punt. The Colts earn 33 total third-quarter yards. Ugh.
- And another Bills field goal. Jackson left, Jackson right, Jackson up the middle. It is not until Buffalo reaches the red zone that the Colts defense can stop him; two runs for minus one yard, by the way. Buffalo now leads 30-7, having scored 23 unanswered points. Fred Jackson hits 212 yards on the afternoon, 1000 yards on the season.
- With a 15-yard reception, Terrell Owens moves past Tim Brown into third place on the career receiving yards list with 14,951. I do not always agree with his antics, but I have to respect the talent and longevity.
- Ouch! Wide receiver Hank Baskett turns and leaps in an attempt to make a reception, falls backward with a defender on top of him, and slams his head onto the frozen field. That is three now. The sound is actually sickening, even on TV. He lays motionless for a few seconds, and there is real concern until he stirs, tries to get up, and eventually walks off under his own power. That was scary for a few seconds.
- The Bills control the remaining 3:37 of the game with three runs and three kneel-downs, and head home while the Colts head into the playoffs. End of game. End of regular season.
- The Offense: How do you judge a second- and third-string offense on a frozen and dangerously slippery field in blizzard conditions? How about "They did not play as well as the Bills"? They made a handful of nice plays, but they were far outweighed by poor ones. Overall, this was a D effort... no, that is not right. There was effort - there was no success.
- The Defense: See The Offense.
- Special Teams: See The Defense.
- Sitting here thinking back over the 2009 season, I really believe this was the most painful game to recap. Watching our defense get carved up by Miami in Week 2 was bad. Falling behind New England so far and so fast in Week 10 was bad too and really hard to watch. And certainly witnessing the second-stringers give up the lead (and the game) against the Jets was downright painful. But this... between the brutal field conditions and the atrocious play by Curtis Painter and other backups had me constantly checking the clock, hoping... praying... wishing the game would soon be over. It was not... it went on, and on, and on.
- When asked what he was able to learn from the game, Coach Jim Caldwell said that he would not even review the game film. I wish I could have said the same. When Peyton Manning was asked about the game, he replied "It's not much fun to stand on the sideline as you see the score going the other way." Really, Peyton? Try watching as we fans do: peeking between your fingers and sick to your stomach, from your living room.
- Curtis Painter was awful. 'Nuff said.
- Watching Peyton throw successful alternating completions to Wayne and Clark against a defense that knew he was intent on getting them their 100 catches was really eye-opening. The Buffalo D could not stop them, because the first-string Colts offense is that good. But what really jumps out at me is how the pro-Buffalo crowd reacts to the completions, many of which were for loses or no gain. They seem to have no idea that Manning's goal is completions, not necessarily yards or first downs. After Clark records his 100th catch, a quick out for a loss of seven, the pro-Buffalo crowd cheers. But they miss the point entirely as both Clark and Manning retire to the sidelines having accomplished what they set out to do. All of this makes me wonder how often we dedicated and 'knowledgeable' Colts fans also completely miss the point when we blast the running game, for example, as ineffective and ready for the trash heap or complain loudly when the Colts draft (or cut) what we are positive is the wrong player. The Colts front office has proven, year after year, that they know much more about this whole football thing than we do. Maybe we should do more cheering and less complaining.
- Oh look! The Patriots lost.
Thanks for re-visiting the 2009 regular season with me. It was a season of ups and downs, thrills and heartbreak, and more than a few milestones, broken records, and remarkable achievements. When you think about it, 'remarkable achievement' pretty much defines the Manning era. I feel blessed to be around to witness it. Thanks for reading.
Colts lose 30-7 to end the season at 14-2. Next stop, the playoffs!
Total Run Yards:
Colts: 25 (yes, you read that right)
Bills: 248 (yup, that's right too)
Total Passing Yards:
Colts: 132 (95 of this was Peyton)
Manning: 14 of 18, 95 yards, 1 INT
Painter: 4 of 17, 39 yards, 1 INT
Clark: 7 receptions, 52 yards
Wayne: 5 receptions, 21 yards
Tamme: 1 reception, 21 yards
Hart (receiving): 2 receptions, 16 yards
Collie: 1 reception, 15 yards
Hart (rushing): 10 carries, 28 yards
Brown (rushing): 4 carries, -4 yards