Last week, we looked at what might have happened if the Colts had beaten the Jaguars to conclude the 2011 season. Obviously, it's impossible to say, except we know the Colts would not have had Andrew Luck.
I thought about looking at a painful memory, and what might have been, in the 2009 season. Remember, if the Colts beat the Jets in Week 16, then the Jets don't make the playoffs. I figured, though, that the Colts still lose in the Super Bowl, or worse, even earlier.
Instead, I'll look at another painful memory (sorry). I would argue that the 2005 Colts were, by far, the best team of the Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis. In the 2005 season, the Colts lost three games, and by some cruel twist of fate, I witnessed two of them in person. The first was the loss to the Chargers, which dropped Indy to 13-1. And the second is what we will look at today:
The Divisional game against the Steelers.
What if Mike Vanderjagt makes the kick?
Yes, I'm skipping the "What if Nick Harper scores" scenario, because if he does, the game is over. We'll take it from the kick.
Vanderjagt makes it, and the Colts are headed to overtime with all of the momentum. The Steelers had completely blown an 18 point fourth quarter lead, and had victory slip from Jerome Bettis' fingers at the one-yard line.
I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that the Colts win the game in overtime.
On to the Championship Game, which would be the first ever in Indianapolis, where the Broncos would be waiting. Remember, in the Divisional Round, the Broncos handed Tom Brady his first ever playoff loss and sent the two-time defending champions home.
This would mark the third year in a row that the Colts and Broncos would meet in the playoffs and in Indianapolis. The first two contests saw the Colts win in blowout fashion. I remember thinking that I wasn't afraid of playing the Broncos if/when the Colts advanced to the Championship.
I firmly believe the Colts beat the Broncos in the Championship, but not by 30 some points like the past two seasons. Either way, the Colts take the show to the Super Bowl where the Seahawks await them.
Because of the poor-reffing in Super Bowl 40, many forget that Seattle had a great team in 2005. Shaun Alexander set the NFL record with 28 rushing touchdowns, and Matt Hasselbeck was still a darn good quarterback at this time.
The Colts would have had an edge, though. Remember in Week 16, the Colts and Seahawks played in a game where the Seahawks needed to win, but the Colts sat their starters. The Colts had seen a whole game of Seattle's starters against their defense, while the Seahawks only had a few plays against the Colts starters.
The Colts win the game to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis for the first time. But now let's look at some important things that change because of this season.
For one, the Colts do not let Vanderjagt walk, because they have no reason to. This means that Adam Vinatieri never comes to Indianapolis, and instead stays (probably) in New England.
I also wonder if Tony Dungy calls it quits after winning the Super Bowl. Remember, he lost his oldest son late in the 2005 season. Winning the Super Bowl may have leaned him toward going out on top and spending more time with his family. Remember, he only would coach three more years anyway. I'm unsure about this one though, and for the sake of this article, let's say that Dungy stays.
Edgerrin James probably still leaves in free agency, and it is likely that Joseph Addai still ends up with the Colts.
Here's my real question for you all, though. Who do the Colts open the season against to start the 2006 campaign? When you look at the teams they played, no one jumps out. My guess would be Jacksonville, since they did make the playoffs in 2005.
Needless to say, after winning in 2005, the magic of 2006 doesn't happen and we have a different champion, and let's be honest, it's probably the Patriots.
But wait, that changes things immensely. Winning a fourth Super Bowl in six years (yuck) means that the Patriots (probably) don't go all in for the 2007 season. This means that Wes Welker continues to waste away in Miami, and the Patriots don't trade for Randy Moss. Because of this, the Raiders trade Moss to his only other suitor: the Green Bay Packers.
This clears a path in the AFC for the 2007 Colts, which many (not myself) consider the best Colts team in the Manning era. The Colts claim homefield through the playoffs, stave off Billy Volek and the Chargers, and reach the Super Bowl.
Waiting for them are the Packers. Because the Patriots don't run the table, the Giants don't get the confidence boost of barely losing to them in Week 17, which means they don't make a run. This clears out everything for the Packers offense featuring Moss, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Brett Favre.
The Colts and Manning win in a game very similar to their loss to the Patriots in the real 2007 season. Except this time it's Favre with the costly turnover to end the game, as opposed to Manning.
This, unfortunately, ends up being the last time Manning reaches the Super Bowl with the Colts, as the 09 campaign is derailed when they lose to Favre's Jets.
Wait, what? Let me explain.
Favre, still retires after the 07 season, and still decides to come back. However, the Packers are less willing to trade Favre since he just led them to a Super Bowl appearance, so they keep him. After missing the playoffs (he still gets hurt) in 08, he goes through the same process. This results in his trade to the Jets a year later.
In this situation the Jets still hire Rex Ryan (who wanted Favre to stay) and never trade up to draft Mark Sanchez. With a stellar defense, and a competent QB, the Jets roll into the 09 Super Bowl and beat the Saints. The Jets defense holds New Orleans in check, and Favre's running back doesn't cough up the ball numerous times in the game, unlike in the 09 Championship Game.
Favre retires, and the Jets revert back to being the Jets.
Everything for the Colts goes about the same after the 09 season. One and done in the 2010 playoffs (still to the Jets), disaster in the 2011 season, and Luck in the 2012 season.
And there you have it. How different the NFL could have been if Vanderjagt makes the stupid kick. We wouldn't have had to block out the 2009 campaign, and the Colts would have two rings with Manning. Well...maybe at least.