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End of an Era? Why the Colts Pats Game Means Just as Much as Ever

Last week, I had the great pleasure of watching the Colts lose in epically miserable fashion with my girlfriend from North Carolina.

I had to endure taunts such as "Sunday just isn't his day" when Saturday was called for a fall start and "oh look there goes Williams again" and of course the quarterback comparisons.

If seeing the smug satisfaction and glee on her face every time Curtis Painter dropped back to throw wasn't bad enough, watching Curtis Painter actually throw the ball was.

Yet at the end, grasping for any last hope, I found myself believing that yes a miracle drive orchestrated by Painter could happen. I even found myself mocking my girlfriend about how embarrassing it would be for Carolina to surrender the Colts first win.

When Collie got it down to the three I was positively giddy. Maybe I was a week too early, but all I could think about was running a 3 yard draw play to Addai. Letting Addai take it in. In the closing seconds. To spark the comeback. You know, replicating the greatest play in Colts history.

Instead, the Colts - with plenty of time on the clock - threw the ball not once, but twice. Game over.

Initially I stormed out of the bar, furious with Christensen for his vacuous play calls and his absurd trust in the game's worst quarterback and desperate to avoid my girlfriend's ribbing.

Looking back on the decision later though, I am not so upset. In fact it was a sympathetic, almost cute call. Surely Christensen knew that this was Painter's last game, perhaps his last snap in the NFL. What better sendoff than to give Painter the opportunity to go out a winner having just pulled an improbable 70 yard drive. So what if it didn't work, the chance to leave with that memory was worth it right?

So the apparent end of the Curtis Painter era comes full circle starting with a sack fumble and ending with an interception. In theory, that would be good news....

In theory.

The reality is that we our throwing our 4th string QB out there with only a week of full first team practice to prepare. Not a backup like Matt Cassel. Not even a third string quarterback like Ryan Mallet. But 4th string Dan Orlovsky who is 0-15 in 7 years in the league. Crap.

How badly do Colts fan wish we had Ryan Mallet right now? I never thought I'd be willing to give a kidney for a third string QB, especially not one from the Patriots, but that is what we've come to.

And while I am pulling hard for Orlovsky to succeed, he hasn't exactly been put into an ideal situation.

That being said, there is hope because even at 0-11, the Colts-Pats games always mean a little something extra.

Let's face it, Bill Belichick wants to crush us and you know he's enjoying watching the Colts flounder. He didn't talk about how proud he was the Pats went 11-5 this week on accident. By the same token, this is the Colts Super Bowl (it's at home too!). This is their game of the season.

Pulling off an upset this week would be legendary and would finish second only to the AFC Championship in terms

of most satisfying Colts victories over the Pats all time. For the rest of the rivalry and forever more we could hang that

over them. We could also start the "Orlovsky is better than Brady" debate.

On a more serious and somber note however, Colts players should have extra motivation beyond the usual incentives of a heated rivalry. For several key players and guys who have defined this rivalry, tomorrow's game might be their last against the Pats in a Colts uniform. Perhaps ever depending on their new team/retirement.

The winds of change are sweeping Indianapolis. Already Coyer and Painter (sorta) have been shown the door. At the end of the season big decisions will be made. A few of those may involve trading or releasing guys like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, Jeff Saturday and guys not playing or on IR including Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt and of course Peyton Manning.

Now I hope and expect the majority of them will be back. I am in the camp that with those guys back and a healthy Manning, next year's Colts vs. Pats will be another AFC showdown to decide a trip to the Super Bowl and I think the front office (at least Jim Irsay) is too.

But when you finish 2-14 or worse, even with your best and most celebrated players, you never know. Everyone's status is uncertain. And for the guys listed above there is the possibility that this will indeed be the end of the rivalry, the end of an era.

To go out a winner in what has been the last decade's greatest rivalry in sports should mean a little bit more.

When the Colts take the field tomorrow they aren't just playing for pride. They are play to destroy their sworn enemy and to protect and define their legacies.

So whether it would be a 30 percent Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky under center, I think the Colts have a chance tomorrow. Because just like my girlfriend has bragging rights on me for the next five years, the Colts know they have the momentous opportunity to win bragging rights for life and I expect to see their energy and passion reflect such a occasion, especially at home.

No Colts veteran player wants to look back at this rivalry and see it end with an apathetic whitewashing. They want to remember it as a repeat of something like this.