Rest in Peace – 2008

After a few hours sleep, not much has changed.

Gijon Robinson still hasn’t blocked Dobbins.

Hunter Smith’s last punt still hasn’t had any hang time.

Tim Jennings still got grabby.

The Colts still got beat by a punter.

The spin doctors are already out there, writing cowardly hatchet jobs ripping the Colts character and impugning their coach.  Let me simply ask every one who watched that game:

Did it look like the Colts were unprepared?  Did it look like they didn’t play incredibly hard?

And now the most important question:  Do you honestly think they looked like the better team?

Much has/will be made of Indy’s “postseason” failures.  Most of this is by simpletons who will attempt to either assuage their pain or earn their fortune by ripping on the biggest and brightest stars the Colts have.  They’ll forget things like the fact that Dungy has outcoached his Pythagorean win total more than any coach in the NFL, meaning that he routinely gets one or two more wins out of his team than they deserve.  They’ll forget that Peyton Manning hoisted a very average team to 12 wins.  They’ll forget what we’ve been saying for weeks:  This team wasn’t that good.  Last night, Dungy didn’t make a single bad call.  He challenged a close play that he should have.  He went for it on fourth down at the 33.  His team was prepared and ready.  He did everything he could.  Last night Peyton Manning outplayed his counterpart (who led the NFL in rating and TDs) dramatically.  He made no mistakes, smart decisions, and had the Colts 2 yards from winning.  He did this with no running game, and with one of the worst lines in Indianapolis since 1998.  He was every bit the MVP.

Conversely, the winning coach and winning QB didn’t have nearly as good of nights as their defeated counterparts.  Norv Turner called a stupid timeout (again) on offense with the clock stopped and 4 minutes to play.  His brilliance led to…a sack.  Phil Rivers panicked in the two minute drill and spiked the ball with 50 seconds left, wasting a down the Chargers would later wish they had.  In the NFL, coaches and QBs are important, but sometimes punters and return men/scat backs are more important.  Last night was one of those nights.

Some fans will take their frustration out on the officials because they are always an easy target.  Last night, I thought they were fine.  There are always close calls.  Because I want to protect my right to complain about the 2003 AFC Championship game for eternity, I choose not to whine about overly flaggy zebras.  You can’t say that Indy was mugged in Foxborough AND claim that Jennings didn’t hold in overtime.  It has to be one or the other.  At the end of the game, the Colts D was tired and desperate.  They had a third and long to get the ball back to Manning, and couldn’t do it.  All in all, they played fine. Most likely, if they had forced the stop, Scifres would have pinned Indy down at the 1 inch line with a robo-punt.  In an OT game with no kickoffs coming, Indy was doomed to lose the field position battle in perpetuity. 

There was a lot to love in 2008.  Manning played his best.  Freeney showed he’s worth every penny.  Mathis elevated his game to an elite level.  Anthony Gonzalez raised his play a notch, but still drops passes and gets tackled a yard short of the sticks…he’s young and working hard.  Reggie Wayne battled injuries and had a fine season.  Dungy took a banged up, patchwork squad and got them to an elite level of wins in possibly his finest season as a coach.  This was a special year, but one that was never very likely to end well.

The Colts simply have to improve in 2009 across the board.  First they must make tough decisions on their own players:

Marvin Harrison-bring him back, but only if the money is right.  Restructuring his contract could prove cheaper cap wise than cutting him.

Jeff Saturday-There may never be a finer warrior to play for the Colts.  He’s been integral to everything they’ve done.  It breaks my heart to say that unless he’s willing to sign a VERY friendly deal, that you can’t pay big money to a 34 year old center who just (valiantly) played a season on one leg.

Kelvin Hayden-Cover 2 corners are often seen as interchangeable parts, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colts let him walk.  He has shown a unique ability to make plays, however, and with Marlin Jackson coming off a major injury and Tim Jennings and Keiwan Ratliff as your next two corners, can you really risk breaking up a highly effective secondary?  This is the toughest call on the board.

Dom Rhodes-Dom was valuable for sure.  He isn’t a starter, but he knows the system and can block.  Unless Edge becomes available (for a reasonable price), you keep him.

Hagler, Thomas, Giordano, Reid, Thomas-Reid and Ratliff might be back (he’s become a force on special teams), but I imagine the others will be gone.

Hunter Smith-Let’s not overreact to one game.  Smith is a funny case because he’s very good at one thing, and not so great at another.  He is excellent at pinning the other team deep with his rugby style punt.  However, in a game like last night where the Colts needed him to change field position, he couldn’t do it.  His last punt was awful.  Oh, it went 63 yards prompting Al Michaels to praise it, but it was a line drive shot that had no hang time and was easily returned for big yardage.  Smith has one year left on his deal, but don’t be surprised if the Colts bring someone in to push him.

The Colts have a desperate need on the offensive and defensive lines.  They’ve drafted a lot of O-linemen in the past two years, and thus far, none of them have jumped off the screen.  The ‘nice thing’ about having potential holes at almost every position on the field (except for QB, TE, Saftey, and DE) is that Polian is basically free to draft the best available player.

All in all, there is serious work to do.  This team will have a very favorable schedule next year, and will likely win another 12 games (especially if Dungy returns).  They aren’t close to where they need to be to win it all though. 

Better get to work, Bill.

Finally, your stat of the day:
The Chargers mounted three scoring drives in regulation for 17 points.  Those drives encompassed 44, 45, and 30 yards.  17 points for 129 yards.  No Colts turnovers were involved in giving the Chargers that field position.

The Colts mounted three drives for 48, 42, and 40 yards. 3 points for 130 yards.  They did not turn the ball over or miss any field goals to kill drives.

This game was all about the punters.  Anytime you play a team and an opposing player has one of the greatest performances in history against you, you’ll probably lose.  When that player is a punter, and there really isn’t anything you can do to stop him, it leaves you with little chance win.

Links:
The Cold Hard Football Facts hatchet job is hilariously bad.  The Colts started 5 drives inside the 10 yard line (and another at the 14 after a false start).  No reasonable person who watched that game and that line last night would write what they wrote.  People can call us homers all day, at least we try to be objective.  They play silly games like taking Manning’s TD pass out of his stats, as if that wasn’t one of the smartest and best plays of the night (while subtly trying to make it seem
like it was Reggie Wayne who did the heavy lifting).  They should just be called Cold Hard Football Haters.  Their performance this past week was embarrassing.  Last night’s game illustrated exactly why Manning WAS the MVP.  The Colts weren’t that good.  Seriously, terrible terrible work by them.  It’s like they don’t even watch the games.

Demond Sanders:  Great write up, DZ.  You tell it like it is.  The Colts have nothing be to ashamed of.  Manning was Manning.  The defense played very well.  An opposing player (Mike Scifres) played the single best game ever played by someone at his position (Punter).  What are you going to do?

This team was limited by its line all season.  No one should be surprised or angry.  2008 was a fun year.  2009 will be far better if the line improves.  It also wouldn’t hurt if Edge came back.  Come on #32. 

We’ll leave you with a bit of rage-inspired art by anonymous.  We’ll be sure to route it to the proper authorities.

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