I won this game as a team

We’ve spent a lot of digital ink on the MVP race over the past two months.  What can we say?  We are Manning-obsessed.  We never pretended to be anything else.  We’ve probably ignored the rest of the team at times.  So before the big game let’s be clear about what it is going to take for the Colts to win at San Diego:  A total team effort. 

If you look at the Colts recent playoff games one thing is clear:  the cliche that you win or lose as a team definitely applies.  I know at times we joke that Peyton is the whole team.  But the results speak for themselves.  Let’s take a look back in reverse chronological order:

Chargers at Colts, January 2008:  The defense took a lot of heat for this loss because of the lack of pressure on the quarterback.  They came away with just one sack and one turnover.  The Colts offense punted just once but committed three brutal turnovers in Chargers territory.  The running game produced just 50 yards on 17 carries.  Verdict:  Lost as a team.

Super Bowl XLI, February 2007:  The running game kept the chains moving and the Bears off the field.  After an early pick, Manning protected the football by throwing underneath to his backs.  The D forced a host of turnovers including Kelvin Hayden’s clinching interception for a touchdown.  Verdict: Won as a team
Patriots at Colts, January 2007:
  The Colts ran 28 times for 125 yards as they over came a 21-6 halftime deficit.  The defense had its worse game of the playoffs, but still managed to force 5 punts and 2 field goal attempts.  Manning was great despite giving up 7 points on a pick six.  Marlin Jackson sealed the game with a late pick of Tom Brady.  Verdict:  Won as a team.

Colts at Ravens, January 2007:  Manning was just 15 of 30 for 170 yards and two picks.  The running game’s gutsy 100 yard effort helped produce 5 scoring drives.  The defense held the Ravens to 260 yards of offense and virtually shut down the Ravens rushing attack.  The D forced two fumbles and two picks.  Verdict:  Won as a team.

Chiefs at Colts, January 2007:  Manning was 30 for 38, but threw 3 interceptions.  He leaned on a running game that churned out 190 yards rushing.  The Defense played its best game of the season.  It shut down Larry Johnson and forced three turnovers.  The Chiefs had 7 first downs all day compared to the Colts 28.  Verdict:  Won as a team.

Steelers at Colts, January 2006:  This was a classic case of failure on both sides of the ball.  The offense started as cold as ice and the defense wasn’t any better.  After finding themselves in an early 14-0 hole the offense went on a 15-play drive that only netted a field goal.  The Colts played much better in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as Vandy missed a tying field goal.  Verdict:  Lost as a team.

If we look further back we can find only one good example of Manning winning a playoff game by himself.  The 38-31 victory over Kansas City in January of 2004 was all Manning.  What is the point?  The point is to keep your expectations in check.  If you think Peyton is going to come into Qualcomm without a running game and outduel the Chargers then you are nuts.  He can do that against the Jaguars and win.  He won’t succeed against a team that knows what it is doing on offense. 

The defense is going to have to get pressure and force multiple turnovers.  A lone sack and fumble won’t be nearly enough.  The running game will need to consistently pick up first downs.  If these points seem obvious to you, then good, you are a rational fan.  I need to remind myself sometimes that there is a lot more to success or failure than Manning.

Links:  Paul Kuharsky chimes in with this misguided effort.  Manning’s struggles against the 3-4 are overblown and can largely be summed up in one word:  Foxboro.  Manning won all five of his games against 3-4 defenses this season.  Yes, he took 35% of his sacks against 3-4 defenses, but they accounted for 31% of his games.  Not a very telling stat, Paul.

Some people can’t leave well enough alone.