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By Brent Glasgow
From their Week 1 loss to the Houston Texans to Saturday nightâ€™s home playoff defeat against the New York Jets, the 2010 season was an uphill battle for the Indianapolis Colts. Although disappointing for a franchise and fan base so used to winning, it is a campaign easily put in the rearview mirror.
Because of the comical ineptitude of the other three teams in the AFC South, the Colts managed a division championship with one of the most decimated rosters in NFL history. Even before Saturdayâ€™s loss to foot infatuate Rex Ryan, Colts president and future Hall of Famer Bill Polian â€” who has been around the league for over three decades â€” noted heâ€™d never seen a team deal with as many injuries as this yearâ€™s Colts. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez going down in the first game of the season was just the beginning. In addition to a brutal list of game-to-game ailments, by seasonâ€™s end there were 17 Colts on injured reserve, including Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, whose collective absence often made Peyton Manning look more Clark Kent than Superman.
Clark and Collie couldâ€™ve been named team co-MVPs, because their value was never more apparent than when they were gone. Without them, Manning never felt entirely comfortable. No defense was afraid of replacements Jacob Tamme and Blair White, so they locked down on Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon to limit big plays.
Outside of Garconâ€™s 57-yard touchdown, the Colts offense was neutered by the Jets, as Manning seemed to tremble at the thought of throwing anywhere near Darrelle Revis, who held Wayne to a single catch and 1 yard. It was a pathetic display, and Wayne was inconsolable afterward, saying he shouldnâ€™t have bothered suiting up. In a way, heâ€™s right, because Manning never gave him a chance.
Still, assuming the injuries heal up, the Colts will be back to normal personnel-wise next season. At full strength, they are a Super Bowl contender, despite having what appears to be a head coach afflicted by cowardice and incompetence.
Jim Caldwell is far from beloved in Indianapolis, and with good reason. When he chose to abandon the Coltsâ€™ perfect season last year, he opened a perhaps unsealable wound. His on-field decisions have provided a mix of salt and rubbing alcohol, dumped into the laceration, causing a screaming reaction from fans while bringing no-longer-hidden gestures of exasperation from players.
Caldwell was at his worst Saturday night. Along with facilitating some of the worst play calling in recent team history, he was talked into a foolish review in the first quarter, and called a timeout in the final minute to help the Jets improve their field goal position. There is no way to prove the latter cost the Colts the game, but it sure didnâ€™t help.
During Tony Dungyâ€™s tenure, I often felt the Colts were great in spite of him, because I never thought he was an outstanding big-game coach. However, Dungy is Lombardi compared to Caldwell. While Caldwell brings Dungyâ€™s sedate demeanor, he doesnâ€™t have his grasp of decision making, even in the simplest of situations. After throwing away an unbeaten season and making many inexcusable mistakes, I have no doubt Caldwell has lost some team members. He wonâ€™t be fired, because it would take a losing season for that to happen, and my 4-year-old could coach a healthy Colts team to nine wins. The eventual result could be that Manning retires with one Super Bowl ring, because youâ€™d think Caldwell would get it before age 55.
As I walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night, the vibe was noticeably non-suicidal, as many folks were ready to just move on. Compared to previous playoff defeats against New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego, the pain of the Jets loss was dulled significantly by fansâ€™ knowledge that the Colts played with half a JV roster. The team did all it could in making the playoffs when few others couldâ€™ve. Saturday, it just seemed like there was nothing left in the tank. With the Super Bowl in Indianapolis next year, itâ€™s time for seven months of refueling, as the finish line of the Manning era gets closer and closer.