We were wrong, and both Tony Dungy and Bill Polian have a lot of explaining to do.
Let me first say that Dungy and Polian are the best at what they do. The fact that there is a credible debate between who is better between Dungy and Belichick speaks volumes about both coaches. And Polian is, quite simply, the best GM in football. Scott Pioli does a great job in New England, but he has nor proven himself outside New England. Polian built the Bills and Panthers before creating the champion Colts. That said, both Dungy and Polian did not approach these playoffs in the best way possible, and both share some of the blame for the team's disappointing exit.
Let's not over state things though: The Colts persevered through a season defined by devastating injuries. It's a feat in and of itself that they made the playoffs minus Dwight Freeney, Booger McFarland, Tarik Glenn, Rob Morris, and Dominic Rhodes. All those players were absolutely vital to Indy's run in 2006, and none suited up in these playoffs for various reasons. Adding to that the fact that other key players (Robert Mathis, Raheem Brock, Antoine Bethea, and Marvin Harrison) simply weren't healthy for this game, and it's a miracle the score was even close. Injuries are never an excuse for losing. The Chargers certainly didn't use them as an excuse. But, at some point, your team needs to get healthy and perform.
This year, the Colts never did. Here's the game recap:
- We are now, once again, provided a wonderful litmus test for a person's intelligence: Anyone who blames Peyton Manning for this game is a complete focking idiot, and anything and everything they think or say afterwards is irrelevant. For example: Yahoo.com's editorial staff. Notice the article title ("Colts can't win the big one... again") has nothing to do with Michael Silver's actual article. Here's a quote from Silver abut Manning in the game:
So there I was in the RCA Dome press box Sunday, watching Peyton Manning complete his first 14 passes in guiding the Colts to a 10-7 halftime lead, and I'm thinking, "Is the NFL the most blessed entity on earth, or what?"Yahoo editorial staff = Total morons, and complete Manning-haters. Sure, the Manning-haters will return because that is what their life revolves around: Hating Peyton. They've been in Hell the last year, and now that his team has (shock!) lost a playoff game, they are dancing like pixies. These people were always losers (like Bill Simmons), and dismissing them has always been easy. For people that actually understand football, Peyton's performance was brilliant. He started the game completing 14 straight passes. He threw for over 400 yards, 3 TDs, and was as efficient throwing as we've ever seen him. His two INTs, both deflections off the hands of receivers, were not his fault; especially Kenton Keith's screw-up. Some will say he should have scored with them inside the five yard line at the end, but tipped balls, dropped passes, and bad protection are not the fault of Peyton. He played a tremendous game, and anyone who think s otherwise is simply wrong, and their opinion should be dismissed outright.
- Marvin Harrison had no business playing Sunday, and Bill Polian out-and-out lied to us fans about his health. Marvin should have been IRed a long time ago, and the Colts should have brought in another receiver. Marvin fumble in the first quarter was huge, and really changed the game. He did not play in the fourth quarter, where he was sorely needed. I hope this is not the end of the great Marvin Harrison, but it does not look promising.
- If you want a goat, place the onus solely on the defense. They stunk up the RCA Dome for its final game. No better example is San Diego's final TD drive, with their back-up QB and RB scorching the Colts defense. The total lack of a pass rush was evident. Mathis and Brock were non-factors, and did not have any real feel for the game. On the final drive, Darrell Reid was playing DE. That is always a bad sign.
- The penalties were unforgivable. San Diego had 10 for 79 yards. That's expected from them. They are a poorly coached, undisciplined football team. But the penalties for Indy were atrocious. Marlin Jackson's DUMB personal foul penalty on the final SD touchdown drive was the key play of the game. That was on third down, mind you. SD would have had to punt if not for Marlin's dumb play. Bob Sander's taunting Nick Kaeding was also stupid. These kinds of things are unforgivable for a Colts playoff team.
- Kenton Keith sucks, and I never want him in a Colts uniform again. The dropped pass, which resulted in an INT, should give him his walking papers. The lack of any kind of running game really hurt the offense. Tom Moore got away from the run too quickly, and Manning was asked to literally carry the team.
The biggest disappointment was the lack of sharpness from the team, which stems directly from the injuries. Much will be said of "resting starters" at the end of the regular season, but the fact of the matter is the starters were hurt. Robert Mathis, Raheem Brock, Marvin Harrison, Antoine Bethea, and even Joseph Addai had not played a meaningful game in over a month. These guys weren't "rested." They were hurt, and were given no time to get re-adjusted to playing full speed. When you take into account all the massive injuries this team faced, it is indeed something that they got to the post-season.
Remember, after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, they stunk it up the next year, missing the post-season entirely. Following the Steelers recent Super Bowl, they too choked the following season and missed the playoffs. These are facts our little friends in Chowda Land and Crapsburgh love to forget.
So, while it is disappointing, the team did accomplish some things this season. This group is a very different group than the won that won it all last year. Tony Ugoh, Gonzo, Pitcock, Devon, Kenton Keith, TJ Rushing, and Tim Jennings did not play (or weren't on the team) last season, and all were vital parts of this year's team. Combine that with losing Freeney, Harrison, and Booger and things fall into place.
For us, the silver-lining is the team is young, talented, and hungry. Losses like this have often propelled the Colts to great things, feeding a need to redeem themselves. In addition, the diaries and comments from many of you contributors on this game have been great, in particular Ron L, bluegirl, and several others. As always, we fans will simply have to accept this loss and move on. The off-season will be filled with idiot rumblings about 2006's "fluke" Super Bowl, Manning is a loser again, and Dungy's status with the team. That's fine. You aren't going to change the mind of stupid people. All we can do is take stock: Our team is moving into a brand new, beautiful stadium. Our team is still very good, and likely most of our injured guys will come back 100%.
It's still a bright future. Never forget that. Go Colts!