In today´s first installment of this series I promised to pierrezombie long ago, or so it seems now that the wheels of time have put concrete snaps with new players between us and the Peyton Manning era in Indy, we´ll visit another timeline, one where Jim Irsay woke up on the other side of the bed this 7th of March and decided there was no way he would part with the player that kept the franchise in Indianapolis and gained worldwide love for the Colts. What would have happened with the Colts if Peyton Manning had played out his entire career in Indy?
Obviously, this line of wishful thinking is purely an exercise in speculation made by a fond fan, and as such it harbors no pretention of being a truthful depiction of the future of a team. For starters, when doing this, I had to decide what kind of team Peyton would have had around him, and as longtime Colts fans know, it´s impossible to take this in any direction before deciding if in this imaginary world, Polian would have remained with the team. In the real world, let me state it quite clearly, I would have loved for the Polians to remain in place, because their record speaks for itself, added to the fact that Bill had a special connection with Peyton. Plus, predicting the roster moves and overall trajectory of the team would have been easier based on his long tenure, compared to the still unknown quanity that is Ryan Grigson. But here, in Alt18Coltsland, I settled on acting as if everything else had happened the way it did, except for Peyton´s release.
So this leaves us in quite a bind, really. This team is in reconstruction, and it´s hard to imagine that had Peyton stayed here, all the same player moves would have been made. No way would Irsay have parted with the whole lot of offensive weapons, including Pierre Garçon, Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez, Jeff Saturday and Joseph Addai if 18 was still our QB. But hey, I had to draw the line somewhere, right? There were, it seems, severe financial problems with the previous team, and I didn´t want this to become a trouble-free dream either. I´d like this series to draw a bridge between the young team we´ll be learning to love and my indefectible love of Peyton Freaking Manning, and in my opinion, it´s more interesting to deal with the flux than to choose a scenario where things would have had to remain completely static for the next 5 years (I didn´t want to have to predict Dallas´ marked drop in performance, nor did I want him to be able to replicate his 2008 season for the next few years). Plus, this means not dealing with Caldwell as the head coach, and I find it fascinating to imagine Peyton dealing with Pagano in his old turf. More aggressiveness allowed for Peyton in the Luke and elsewhere is enough to make me salivate, you know?
Imagine thus that the entire team that played against Chicago is the one depicted in this projection. Same defense, same receiving corps (no Austin), same OL… Imagine also the same Peyton we´ve been witnessing in Denver (would it balance things out? Let´s find out.)
I´m completely open to your input, though, and I´ll gladly reconsider if you drop me a word. After all, we could maybe have had a slower transition, and so ignoring financial constraints, this year´s team could have been a mixture of the old guard and new faces like Fleener´s. I´d really love it if you participated wholeheartedly in this, all of you, especially fellow Peyton lovers like DougEngland, since the idea is for this series to become a fixture (posted on Saturdays hopefully) as long as 18 is out there making us marvel at the way the QB position can be played provided you´re the GOAT.
Now that this has been (temporarily) established, let´s proceed to the Alt18Coltsland week 1 matchup against the Chicago Bears! Apologies for the delay, pierrezombie.
The first Chicago drive would have been the same.
13:08, Peyton´s first meaningful snap since the 2010 season and that last cursed pass! Even the Chicago crowd shows respect, aware that they´ve been given an incredible second chance. His first pass, to Dominique Jones, goes for 8 yards. Donald Brown loses 2 yards in the next play.
3rd down, 4 yards to go, Peyton drops back and finds an open Reggie Wayne with a quick slant for 6 yards. Looks like the Colts started well in their quest to keep up with their incredible 3rd down conversion rate in the Peyton era, folks.
Next snap, Samson Satele delivers the snap a bit low, Peyton finds himself in a bit of a hurry. Incomplete pass to the right for Dwayne Allen.
After a Brown rush to the left for 5 yards, we´re facing a 3rd and 5. Allen stays in to block this time, and buys Peyton enough time to find LaVon Brazill for 9 yards on the right sideline.
We´re nearing midfield. On the following set of downs, an overmatched Seth Olsen has no choice but to commit a blatant holding penalty against Julius Peppers. 10 yards backwards. 1st and 20, Brown picks up a Hayden blitz, but Wootton slips through, a hurried Peyton steps sideways in the pocket and finds Reggie for 12 yards in the middle of the field!
On 2nd and 8, Peyton passes to Coby Fleener for 6 yards after the TE shakes off the linebacker that was trailing him.
3rd and 2 is the kind of crucial distance the Colts need to be able to convert. What will it be, a pass, a run? It´s a draw for Brown on the center-left side of the line. Brown barely converts, gain of 3 yards.
At the Bears 42 yard line, Peyton continues his slow dismantling of the famed Bears defense. Justice lets a defender blow by him, and Brown loses 2 yards, but Peyton instantly finds Coby Fleener for 6 yards with a quick strike. 3rd and 6, Peyton takes it from the shotgun. Reggie is well-covered by two Bears, and so Peyton hangs on until he finds Donnie Avery for a good 14 yards on the left side of the field, until he´s taken out of bounds.
24 yards to go for the Colts´ first TD of the year. Donald Brown escapes for 9 yards after escaping a tackle. 2nd and 1… And Peyton goes for the kill. Kris Adams on the post route hauls in a beauty of a pass. 15 yard TD pass, the Colts faithful fans erupt in joy, Peyton is mauled by an ecstatic Reggie Wayne. While Vinatieri kicks the extra point, the camera pans out to a slightly smiling Peyton conversing with Austin Collie with a pleased Donald Brown hovering by.
The drive took 6 mn and 43 seconds, and so the Bears have approximately 5 mn before the first quarter ends. Hester doesn´t try his luck. Bears at their 20 yard line.
Cutler and Forte manage to engineer a good drive. The defense can´t quite get to Cutler. However, at the Colts 32 yard line, Cutler is hurried, and tries to pass to his safety blanket in the middle of the field while running towards the left sideline. Jerrell Freeman intercepts, and returns it for 26 yards. The Colts offense is now in Bears territory!
Peyton Manning incomplete pass to Allen to the right. Then, Peyton finds Reggie for 7 yards with another slant. 3rd and 3, Peyton finds Allen for 4 yards next to the right sideline, and Allen escapes a tackle for another 3 yards. We´re now at the Bears 32 yard line.
That was the last play of the 1st quarter, by the way, so we now begin the 2nd quarter.
Donald Brown run that only gets 2 yards, after Samson Satele failed to hold his ground against the Bears interior DL. Then a Peyton 5 yards pass to Mewelde Moore. 3rd and 3, Peyton is sacked for 5 yards by Julius Peppers. Castonzo´s lone mistake of the game, and it costs the Colts 4 points, since they have to settle for a field goal. Vinatieri brings the score to a pleasing 10-0, though.
Alas, the following Bears drive gashes the Colts run defense like MJD circa 2006. No Bob Sanders, and Zbikowski can´t hold a candle to him. With 3 mn 58 seconds remaining in the 1st half, Forte gets a 6 yard TD run.
10-7 Colts, Peyton back to his old no-huddle ways, with a little time before time expires. 1st and 10 on the Colts 20 yard line, and an Olsen false start later, 1st and 15. Peyton drops back 7 steps, and finds Donnie Avery for 9 yards on the right. 2nd and 6, Peyton goes for a 25 yard bomb to Reggie, who in typical Reggie fashion, ran a wonderful route on the left side of the field before sprinting back to the middle.
We´re now at midfield, and 1 mn 37 seconds have already expired.
Bears 49 yard line. Brown runs for 6 yards . Then a Peyton incomplete pass to Kris Adams. The Bears know they must fear Peyton´s play-action skills and they´re unusually cautious. 3rd and 1, and Peyton see LaVon Brazill open 6 yards past the marker, but Brazill drops the pass. However, there´s a defensive pass interference, and so the drive continues. The crowd boos loudly, but it doesn´t change the call. 42 seconds only remain, the Colts are at the Bears 34 yard line.
Peyton finds Fleener for 5 yards in the middle of the field. Fleener has trouble getting up after being clobered by Urlacher, but he manages to join the sideline without help. On 2nd and 5, however, another holding penalty against Justice, and it´s now 2nd and 15, with 29 seconds left. Peyton finds Reggie for 8 yards. 3rd and 7, Peyton finds Kris Adams again, but just shy of the marker this time, for a 7 yard gain.
With the half about to end, Vinatieri kicks another FG.
Colts 13, Bears 7. End of the first half.
Back in the 3rd quarter, we start off at Indy´s 20 yard line. 1st and 10, Brown rush for 3 yards. 2nd and 10, Peyton incomplete pass to LaVon Brazill. It would have been a 16 yard completion otherwise. Bad timing between the two of them, and Brazill turned half a second too late. 3rd and 10, incomplete pass from Peyton to Reggie. A very small window was open, but deflected pass by Tim Jennings.
13 mn 20 left, Bears drive, several intermediate passes to Brandon Marshall, a few Forte rushes, and 6 mn later, Bears TD.
The kickoff allowed Cassius Vaughn to return the ball to Indy´s 34 yard line. Peyton goes no huddle, of course. 1st and 10, blitz by Chicago, but Peyton sees it and changes the play at the line of scrimmage. 18 yard pass to Donnie Avery on the right side of the field, after a Bear breakdown in coverage.
Then Peyton sees the Bears safety hanging back in coverage, so he diagnoses a run. Brown for 11 yards in the middle of the field, with a Mike McGlynn block springing him free. At the Bears 39 yard line, Peyton to Reggie for 6 yards on the left sideline, with a superb one-handed catch. 2nd and 4, Peyton goes for the play action, 24 yard pass to Coby Fleener, who juggled a bit the ball but stiff-armed DJ Moore. 2 mn remaining, Indy at Chicago´s 9yard line. Brown run for no gain. 2nd and 5, Brown run for 2 yards towards the right.
3rd and goal at the 7 yard line, the kind of situation Peyton lives for. He signals for a play, then when Chicago tips their hand, goes to the line of scrimmage and changes the play. Play clock is down to 13. The defense tips their hand again. Peyton changes the play again, and with 1 second left on the play clock, he throws a soft pass 1 yard before the end zone, that Coby Fleener takes in for the TD.
20-14. There are 35 seconds left in the quarter. Hester returns the ball to Chicago´s 31 yard line. Cutler again mixes in intermediate passes to the middle of the field that the defense can´t stop with Forte´s runs, and the quarter ends at Chicago 44 yard line.
4th quarter. Chicago ball. With 11 minutes remaining in the game, Chicago´s drive stalls at the Colts 13 yard line because of a Robert Mathis pressure and a Jerraud Powers deflected pass. Robbie Gould kicks a 28-yard FG, and we´re now 20 to 17.
Peyton Manning takes over at Indy´s 20 yard line. First play is a Brown run that goes for 4 yards behind a masterful Castonzo block. 2nd and 6, Peyton sees 8 players in the box, he fakes the handoff to Vic Ballard, and launches a beautiful 36 yard bomb to Reggie Wayne, who catches it with the tips of his fingertips and runs it till the Chicago 30 yard line on the left side.
9mn 46 seconds left, Peyton to Avery for 6 yards. 2nd and 4, Peyton to Allen on the left for 3 yards. Allen has good hands, you can tell. 3rd and 1, Ballard gets 2 yards behind Justice´s lone good play of the day. Chicago 19 yard line, 7 mn 29 left. Peyton to the right for a 2 yard gain to Mewelde Moore.
2nd and 8, Brown gets a 4 yard rush that he miraculously salvaged after Satele and Mc Glynn let him be touched just at the line of scrimmage. With a wiggle, Donald Downtown Brown turns lemons into lemonade. 3rd and 4, Peyton pass to the right. Dominique Jones can´t haul it in, but a DPI is called on the Chicago CB who wrapped his arm around his shoulders. The penalty was at the 7 yard line, so 1st down for the Colts.
On the next play, Wootton lays a solid hit on Peyton, who just manages to get rid of the ball on time. No harm, no foul. Peyton gets up and has this intense look of concentration on his face. 2nd and goal, and Olsen is called for holding Julius Peppers, who was this close to sacking Peyton. It´s now 2nd and goal at Chicago´s 17 yard line. Peyton finds Fleener for 8 yards on the right sideline with a nicely run drag route. 3rd and goal with 9 yards to go, with 4 mn 17 on the game clock, and we get the perfect TD pass to an exulting Reggie Wayne who ran the nicest curl route you´ll ever see.
It´s Peyton´s 402th TD pass, and it´s clear he´s back. The Chicago crowd is silent. 27-17, things aren´t looking good for the Bears.
And indeed, when Cutler gets the ball, he manages to get the Bears to Indy´s 25 yard line seamlessly, but when he faces a 3rd and 8, he can´t convert a pass to Brandon Marshall, who chooses the best of moments to drop a pass. Facing 4th and 8, with 1 mn 08 remaining, Cutler throws a laser pass to Earl Bennett, but it´s a bit high, and even though Bennett catches it, he´s just short of the 1st down. Chicago uses its last timeout to freeze the clock, but two kneeldowns later, it´s over.
The Colts are 1-0.
Peyton´s numbers: 3 TD passes, 26/31, 1 sack, 268 yards.
Here´s for last week´s installment. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it was realistic enough no to read as wishful fantasy. Tell me your thoughts, please, and see you next Saturday for the Minnesota Alt18 version.