Las Vegas-An unexpected five hour layover in the Sin City airport gives me plenty of time to ponder the remarkable season the Colts have endured (or I could visit the Oxygen Bar, where you pay to breathe flavored air). Fans and media in Indianapolis have been spoiled for almost a decade, assuming the Colts will win their division and be in the playoffs. Nothing is a given this season. A 9th consecutive trip to the playoffs rides on the final Sunday of the regular season.
In Early December, the Colts were just 6-6. The postseason chances looked slim. But the Colts never lost control of their playoff destiny. Every game became a must win. Instead of resting starters, the playoffs figuratively started early. Four straight wins to end the season will give the Colts another AFC South championship and ensure a playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium. No small feat for a team that looks nothing like the one that started training camp in Anderson back in August.
The Colts have placed a staggering 17 players on injured reserve. Those are players with injuries that prevent them from returning until next season. Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt and Jerraud Powers lead the list. The Colts have been hit particularly hard (no pun intended Austin) with players who catch passes and players who try to intercept passes.
Jacob Tamme had not caught a pass this season until Dallas Clark got hurt. Now Tamme is critical to the Colts passing game. Blair White had a nice preseason. But who would have guessed the Lance Armstong look alike would be catching touchdown passes in December?
The musical chairs have been even more dramatic in the defensive backfield. Antoine Bethea is the only player who has started every game. When Bob Sanders got hurt in the first quarter of the first game of the season, a nonstop rotation began at the other three spots that has brought a new addition to the roster almost every week. Aaron Francisco was not on the team at the start of the season. But he seems like a long time Colt compared to Justin Tryon, Cornelius Brown and Mike Newton – all of whom are playing significant roles on the Colts makeshift defense.
Taken in perspective, the Colts have given a remarkable performance. A team that could easily have an excuse of broken down and short handed is playing smash mouth football in late December. The Colts are running the ball and stopping the run, the kind of football that wins playoff games. The Colts have outrun two of the best running teams in football the past two games, and held down two power running backs to the point of being non-factors.
I think the Colts will beat down the lifeless Tennessee Titans Sunday to win the AFC South. They have a good chance to win a home playoff game (especially if the Jets come to town again this year). Anything after that is gravy for a team that has accomplished far more than could be reasonably expected. Jim Caldwell won his first 14 games as a rookie NFL coach and led his team to the Super Bowl. But he has probably done a better job coaching this M*A*S*H unit.
-Rich Nye, firstname.lastname@example.org
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