Back in the Saddle

After a couple of incredible days away with my wife, I’m back and ready to recap last night’s thriller.  I have an inbox full of mail and suggested links, so I’ll try and spend the next couple of hours catching everything up.  To start, let’s look back at the high drama that was last night.

Reasons to Smile:

  • There’s nothing wrong with Peyton.  So much for the “he’s nursing an injury” theory.  Granted, most of his throws were short last night, but when it came time to cut one lose, he dropped a beautiful ball into Reggie Wayne for one of the sickest game winners I’ve ever seen.  #18 was incredible last night, stone cold doing it all and making as loud and definitive an MVP case as you’ll ever see.  There was never a question the Colts were going to score points last night.  Throughout the game, it was always only a question of whether or not the D would get the stops.  Watching Manning moving his backs around to pick up blitzes is one of life’s rare pleasures.
  • Reggie Wayne keeps his mouth shut and makes huge plays in fourth quarter after fourth quarter.  No D can ever be satisfied with the work done on him until after the game is over, because just when you think he’s quiet, he makes a few plays down the stretch to seal it.  He doesn’t let frustration show.  He just grinds away.  Always a brilliant Colt, he’s made himself beloved this season.
  • Dallas Clark makes mistakes from time to time, but no one makes up for them more often.  His bobbled almost cost the Colts the game, but he game back with an inspired effort to give them back the lead.
  • Eric Foster’s effort was tremendous.  His second sack was a huge play.  The Colts didn’t get much pressure on Garrard all night, but what they did came from Foster.
  • The D had a rough night, but they still managed to play credible against the run.  MJD had a big game with 110 yards, but barely topped 4 yards a carry.  In fact, until his final draw for 10 yards, the Colts had held him to 100 yards on 26 carries.  I’ll take that against him any day.  His center of gravity is so low, it’s nearly impossible to stop him for a loss.  The Colts did a great job hitting him at or near the line, but he just burrowed down for an extra yard or two.  I can live with that performance.
  • Nice work by the O line.  Granted, the Jags are a HORRIBLE pass rushing team, and Manning still had to move around in the pocket, but he didn’t get sacked and had time to check to his third or fourth read on several plays.
  • Collie blocking downfield.
  • No points allowed in the fourth quarter.  I know Mathis and Freeney didn’t make any huge plays, but did you notice how much better the D looked once they started playing every down late in the game?
  • Chad Simpson.  That’s five touchbacks worth, buddy! Incredible blocking on that play.  No one laid a hand on him.
  • The look of desire and frustration on Freeney’s face.  He wanted to be playing.
  • Jennings almost sealing the game with a spectacular pick.

Reasons to Frown

  • Did you see that pass rush with 98 and 93 on the bench?  That was the 2007 San Diego game all over again.  Coyer dialed up every conceivable blitz, but nothing landed in time.  Freeney is the second most important player on the Colts.  When he’s not there, it shows.  You could see it on run downs where Dawson couldn’t get off his block to chase down MJD wide.  Freeney changes everything.
  • Catch that ball Hayden.  Almost cost us the game.
  • That was a well officiated game, but the spot on Garrard’s fourth down sneak looked awful to me.  I don’t see how they gave it to him.
  • Kickoffs and punts were a mess.  As Demond mentioned, it seemed like the turf was chewed up.  I’ll give McAfee a mulligan.
  • What was Jennings doing on that TD pass he allowed?  Awful job.
  • Foster’s false start.  The O picked up the 11 yards it needed.  Too bad Foster made them need 15.

Best Call:

Letting Mathis and Freeney loose in the fourth quarter.  All of a sudden, there was a rush with four.  Garrard didn’t go down but once, but he felt it and started to spray the ball all over the field.  Those two change everything.

Worst Call:

Third and 9 from the Jag’s 48 with just under 8 to play, Manning throws toward the sticks to Clark.  HATE the play call.  Instead of playing four down football and trying to pick up 5 or 6, they went for the first.  The Colts had no choice but to punt on fourth down, but I would like to have seen them in ‘four down’ mode from the start.  It worked out in the end, but I didn’t like the tought process.

Reasons I’m Flying:

  • This was a repeat of last year’s game with two exceptions:  1.  The Jags are better.  2.  The game didn’t matter to the Colts.  That’s a sign of improvement when you up the other guy’s motivation, decrease yours, sit your two best defenders for long stretches and still produce the same result.
  • MVP #4.  Brees still has his chance to make his statement, but this is officially a two man race.  Someone with New Orleans ties is winning this award.
  • 14-0.  Just…wow. 
  • As great a game as that was last night, it was arguably not in the top three Colts’ games this year.  The New England game is first.  I think the Dolphins game was at least that good, and the Houston comeback was incredible.  At some point, you just have to throw up your hands and be joyful to watch the most exciting team in football.
  • 10 days off.  As hard as the call was to play people against the Jags, the extra time should make it an easy call for the Jets game.  The rest is built in.  I’m not calling for an all out blitz for 16-0, but I’ve always thought they needed to play hard through the 15th game.  I’m sure they will.  This team is hungry.

Reasons I’m Dying:

  • I’ve seen life without the pass rushers, and I don’t like it. 
  • That’s it.  Nothing else.  Freeney and Mathis play every down last night, and the D would have looked 1000% better.  The offense is on fire.  I’m not worried about anything.  Injuries are my only fear.

The Bottom Line:

San Francisco would be 7-6, battling for a playoff spot.

Houston would be 7-6 tied for the last playoff spot.

New England would be 9-4, very much alive for a bye.

Baltimore would be 8-5, a game up on every other wild card contender

Houston could be 8-5, controlling their own destiny.

Tennessee would be 7-6, tied for the last playoff spot and riding a seven game win streak.

Denver would be 9-4, battling for the division crown, even a bye.

Jacksonville would be 8-6, and in control for the last playoff spot and a chance to save NFL football in North Florida.

Each of those teams needed to beat the Colts more than the Colts needed to beat them.  Every single one lost.  We’ve forgotten some of them were even contenders once, mostly because Indianapolis declared that they weren’t.  Indy has played a gauntlet of 8 games against desperate teams.  Six times teams with everything on the line had the Colts on the mat in the fourth quarter.

They all lost.  In the fourth quarter of those 8 games, the Colts out scored their opponents by a total of 79-39.  That’s basically the equivalent of two 40-20 wins scored against a collection desperate playoff caliber teams.