The Indianapolis Colts fell to 6-4 after a 59-24 trouncing at the hands of the New England Patriots. This morning, the sun still rose. The Colts were still in possession of a AFC Wild Card spot. They still have a young, talented roster. And there will be another football game next week. In other words, it'll be okay.
Look, I know how you feel, trust me. I love sports: I love watching them, I love playing them (on video games, obviously), I love reading about them, and I love listening to and watching other people talk about them. So while the loss was painful enough, almost as bad is the fact that I will actively have to avoid espn.com (probably a good life choice, win or lose), NFL Network, and the local sports talk stations.
Unfortunately, we live in an "instantaneous sports media" world, where most hosts and writers are more interested in delivering the next ratings-driving-hyperbolic statement than they are offering fans real, honest analysis. The saying, "you're never as good as they say you are when you win, and you're never as bad as they say you are when you lose" is incredibly relevant at times like this.
Here's the reality: the Colts lost. If they had lost by 1 or by 101 their record would be the same. Assuming the injury to Cory Redding isn't serious – definitely not a safe assumption at the time this is being written – not much changed for the Colts. They still hold down the 5th seed and they still control their playoff fate. Sure, the Jets and Bengals closed the gap with wins over the Rams and Chiefs respectively, but entering the weekend you had to think there was a good possibility that that would happen.
I guess there may have been one other "change" due to yesterday's result: perhaps the perception of this Colts team will change. After their remarkable 4-game winning streak, in which the Colts took advantage of some of the worst teams in the league, many people started to overlook or ignore the obvious, glaring issues with this team: they are young, they have a bad defense, and their special teams units rely on the leg – and sometimes shoulder tackles – of Pat McAfee. There are plenty of issues for GM Ryan Grigson to address this off-season.
They got to this position by doing what most teams have to do if they want to make the playoffs: beating teams that are worse than them. They get the opportunity to face 3 or 4 – I honestly have no clue what Detroit is – such teams in the next 5 weeks. If they can continue to perform their best against the league's worst, they will still make the playoffs.
And if they don't, the sun will still rise and the Colts will still have Andrew Luck and one of the most promising, young rosters in the league.
- Sunday really exemplified the issues you can encounter with a young, albeit talented, roster. The Colts had a 14-7 lead, all of the momentum, and a chance to put their stamp on the game. Their offense came out with the jitters: over throws, bad blocking, and failing to make the tough catch. Their special teams unit came out with the jitters: a false start and then a punt return TD. And then Luck came out trying to do too much, and a pick-6. A minute later, and the Colts were down by 7 and the wind had left their sails.
Unlike their comeback win against Green Bay in week 5, the Colts allowed their mistakes to overwhelm them, until the team's play became a comedy of errors. While there are learning experiences here, most of them are mental. It would be best to quickly look at the tape, burn it, and move on.
- Luck started out extremely well, but seemed affected by the cold (he seemed to be dipping into his warmers quite a bit, and some of his throws screamed of grip issues) and the blitz. This doesn't say anything about his long-term prospects: he's still a very good player, and he's well on his way to being one of the best in the league. Sunday merely displayed that he's human, venerable to the same pressures – both on the field and off – as every other rookie QB in the NFL.
- One thing to keep in mind regarding yesterday's loss: yes, it was the Colts third blowout loss of the season, but it was the first game in which the Colts offense had to feel the pressure of needing to score every time they had the ball. That's a difficult pressure to deal with, even for NFL quarterbacks. We've seen it before with Manning, he had the ability to thrive on it, for sure, but it also led to some pretty disastrous throws as times. The point is, this was Luck's first go-round, he'll eventually learn how to deal with that pressure and how to thrive in it.
- I don't really think the 2nd half of the game says much about the Colts, the game was out of hand and they fell apart, so I'll focus on first half positives instead: TY Hilton is good. Yes, he needs to work on his ball handling (unless he's trying to give 100,000 Colts fan one big heart attack), but he has great speed and quickness, and his techniques are pretty good for a rookie. I've been pretty on consistent on this: I believe Hilton can develop into a #2 with Luck.
- I'm also impressed with Brazill. He hasn't had a high volume recently – though the unfortunate injury to Avery may change that – but all he does is catch first downs. He knows how to get open, he seems to have good chemistry with Luck, and he understands where the sticks are. He's still raw and will need time to develop, but he's not out of place on an NFL roster.
- Regarding Avery, I hope he's OK. I hope he gets healthy and can return soon, but concussions are serious business and I hope the Colts, who surely want him around for a playoff run, let him heal on his own pace. Brain injuries are the great unknown, and nothing Avery could provide the Colts now is worth the possible long-term effects of suffering additional damage to his brain.
- I want to rail on Bruce Arians and the play calling, but I'm all out of anger. He is who he is. He's not going to change. He's not a good in-game manager and I don't think he's head coaching material. The offense is very good. I can't tell if this is because of him or in spite of him.
- I was very encouraged by the defense yesterday. I know that sounds crazy to say on a day in which they gave up 38 points, generated little pressure, and forced even fewer stops, but there were some positives there. I liked the way they mixed their fronts and coverages. I thought Freeney and Mathis were able to generate pressure, and I loved the way they wanted to attack Brady and his receivers. All of it made sense to me.
Unfortunately for Greg Manusky, the Colts do not have the personnel needed to make it work. They are short: a safety, some cornerbacks, a NT, a dominating DE, and some more scheme-friendly ILBs. I know that sounds like a lot, but watching them yesterday, I saw real reason to have hope for the future.
- The Bills game is a must-win. That's not hyperbole. I mentioned that the Colts were in a playoff position because they beat up on teams worse than them… well, HELLO BUFFALO! The Colts must continue to take advantage of a friendly schedule. Right now I'm not going to count on the Texans to rest their starters OR take the Colts lightly. I'm also not going to count on the Lions shooting themselves in the foot. That means the Colts need to take care of their own business by beating the Bills, Titans, and Chiefs. If they do that, if they win 9 games, it should be more than enough to make the playoffs.
- Let's talk about scores, 1st-team offense, and forearms: I don't care how many points the Colts lose by. I don't care if the opposing team wants to run up the score. I wasn't angry at the Patriots yesterday, I was mad at the Colts. (writer's note: You may notice that I've chosen to NOT mention the 2-minute drill from yesterday. I'm attempting to get my blood pressure back under quadruple digits, please forgive me. Just know that I hope (and think) it was an anomaly, caused by nerves and pressure, and not the new norm)
Now, don't get me wrong: I would never do what Belichick did. Not because I'm a nice guy, not because I care about the opposing team's feelings OR karma. I just think having the starters out there when up by 21 with less than 5 minutes is dumb. And please spare me the, "stranger comebacks have happened" mantra. The Colts were punting on 4th downs. They weren't taking shots down field. They had raised the white flag.
Belichick and the Patriots were running up the score as they compensated for something – who knows what. It's their right. It's within the rules. And it's dumb. It's not dumb because Gronkowski hurt his arm, it's dumb because it's dumb. Don't be dumb, kids.