Prior to last night's playoff loss to the Jets, I wrote a lengthy article praising Colts coach Jim Caldwell for the job he did during the month of December. The Colts, after going 6-6 in the three previous months, were essentially in 'playoff mode' heading into December. They needed to win all four games to make the post-season, which they did. Caldwell deserves much of the credit for the team winning those four games.
However, as much as he deserves the credit for getting Indy to the post-season, Caldwell's decision-making is very much to blame for their early exit from the playoffs. As was evident last night in the closing minute of the Colts 2010 season, Jim Caldwell apparently did not learn from his mistakes earlier in the season.
After Peyton Manning led the Colts into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri booted through a 50 yard field goal to give the Colts a 16-14 lead with 53 seconds left in the game, the Jets received the kickoff at the Indy one yard line and returned it 47 yards. After three plays netted 13 yards, the Jets were at the Colts 34 yard line content to attempt a 50-plus yard FG.
However, for reasons that seem absolutely baffling to just about everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium last night, Colts coach Jim Caldwell called timeout with 29 seconds left in the game. According to CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, the Jets took full advantage of Caldwell's oddly timed timeout:
Given time to get the right play, the Jets talked it out. It was a group effort. New York considered calling another running play anyway, but 6-foot-3 receiver Braylon Edwards objected. Since the Colts had given New York time to talk it out, Edwards noted that he was being single-covered by 5-10 Colts cornerback Jacob Lacey. He wanted the ball.
Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer relented, and suggested a certain pass play. This time, quarterback Mark Sanchez objected. (Told you -- this was a group effort.) Anyway, Schottenheimer relented a second time.
Here, Mark, he told Sanchez. You call the play.
No animosity. All trust. Schottenheimer trusted Sanchez to call a play that would work, and Sanchez called a streak to Edwards down the right sideline. It worked -- easily, with Edwards rising high above Lacey for the catch -- for 18 yards. The clock ran down to three seconds, and the Jets called their final timeout.
On the next play, the kicker made the game-winning FG, and the Colts lost. If this sounds like deja vu Colts fans, that's because it is.
By allowing the Jets time to come up with a play, Mark Sanchez and Braylon Edwards were able to gain an additional 18 yards for Folk. What would have been a 50-plus yard kick (Folk was 2-5 on 50-plus yarders in 2010) was now a chip shot 32-yarder that any professional kicker should make with their eyes closed. Folk nailed the FG, and the Colts (for the seventh time in the Peyton Manning era) were one-and-done in the playoffs.
If this scenario of oddly timed time outs seems familiar, that's because it is. Back in Week Four, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Caldwell did the exact same thing in the exact same situation. The result was a Jags FG to win the game.
Back in Week Four, we wrote about the useless Caldwell timeout and how the Jaguars, like the Jets, capitalized on Caldwell's mistake:
Regarding the timeout, for me it was a poor decision. The Colts defense was awful yesterday. Simple awful. Prior to the timeout, the Jags ran the ball for 8 yards on first down. They faced a second and two, and were content to let the clock run and take their chances in OT. For the Colts to have any hope of winning, they needed to win the coin toss.
No faith in their defense making any kind of stop. None. Because of the Caldwell timeout, the Jags saw an opportunity.
Even players like Dwight Freeney seemed surprised by Caldwell's timeout with 36 seconds left against the Jags. But, like last night against the Jets, the Jags used the extra time to draw up and play, which would eventually be a 22-yard completion by David Garrard which was just enough for kicker Josh Scobee to nail a 59-yarder to win the game.
The parallels between that Week Four timeout mistake and last night's were eery, and I have yet to find one person who can defend Caldwell's reasoning for calling the TO with 29 seconds left against the Jets.
I mean, what? Did he think he was going to get the ball back? Seriously?
I guess we shouldn't be surprised by Caldwell's decision last night. When asked by the press about the timeout after the loss to the Jags, Caldwell said [emphasis mine]:
Asked whether he would handle it differently, Caldwell said, "No sir. Same thing."
As the famous saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same task over and over again, but expecting a different result. While I'm not ready to call Jim Caldwell insane, I am ready to say that while he deserves create for getting Indy to the post-season, he is most certainly not the kind of coach that will lead the Colts to a Super Bowl victory.
His terrible decision last night to call timeout was the third such situation this year where he mis-used his timeouts. Factor in his questionable decision-making in Super Bowl 44, and the mood of fans after last night's brutal loss is that Jim Caldwell should be fired.
Obviously, he won't. Jim Irsay thinks he's Coach of the Year, and Bill Polian has a hard enough time admitting he makes errors in player evaluation, let alone coaching hires. It seems clear to me that Colts fans have lost faith in Caldwell, and if the voice of fans means anything to Jim Irsay, he should reconsider his options at the head coaching position heading into 2011.