Indianapolis Colts Come Oh So Close…

Indianapolis sports fans all over the Circle City are still trying to fully recover from what almost was a perfect ending to a near perfect season. Downtown Indianapolis as a whole seems to be moving a bit slower, heads seem to be hanging just a tad lower and the impending snow storm that will touchdown any moment feels like the football gods final punch in the gut.

I’m not here to heal all wounds,–only time has the capability to do that–but I am here to offer a little bit of perspective. After all, if you are reading this than you’re still breathing, and if you look outside you’ll notice the sun is still rising. So where did the Indianapolis Colts go wrong in their pursuit of a second Super Bowl championship in four seasons? Again, I don’t have all the answers; but there certainly were a few key moments in Super Bowl XLIV that played a pivotal role in the final result.

Colts fans all over Indiana could not have asked for a much better start. The Indianapolis defense forced the high powered New Orleans Saints offense into a quick three-and-out. Peyton Manning was looking good, and the first two Colts possessions ended in a combined 10 points. Hoosiers everywhere were thinking to themselves, “If Peyton and Co. are scoring early than this could turn into a wash.”

The first real mishap for the Indianapolis Colts came in the second quarter when Pierre Garçon dropped an uncontested third down pass that would have extended the Blue Horeshoe’s drive. Instead, the Colts went three-and-out themselves and would barely touch the pigskin again for the next 62-minutes.

Dropped passes are part of the game no matter what level you are playing at. Where the wheels really started coming off was inside the final two minutes of the first half. After a huge goal line stand by the Colts defense, it was time for Peyton to take over. Only problem is someone must have forgotten to tell him.

When Mike Hart powered the ball off of the goal line for a four yard gain, the Colts should have put the pedal to the floor. Instead they became conservative, and again ended up punting to the Saints. While it was frustrating to see New Orleans add a field goal before halftime, it was infuriating to see the Colts lay down here.

All season long Indianapolis had made a nasty habit out of demoralizing teams with a long drive/quick score before the final whistle of the first half. And during the playoffs, the Colts were even more successful with this. They flat out won the Baltimore Ravens game in the final two minutes of the first half when they scored 14-points. The following week in the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, Peyton Manning’s four play drive, capped by two fantastic catches from Austin Collie, not only resulted in a touchdown, but it set the stage for a dominant Colts performance in the second half.

Why the sudden change of heart? The Indianapolis Colt are the ultimate “dance with the one that brung ya” team in all the NFL. Instead of putting pressure on the New Orleans defense, and possibly extending their lead to 17-3 or 13-3, they tried to play it safe and ended up getting burned. Even if they didn’t find a way to put points on the scoreboard before half, they would should have prevented a final Saints possession.

Still, 10-6 at halftime was fine with every Colts fan I know. I’m sure there were a lot of cautious smiles in and around Indy in congruence with the thought that the Colts are a second half team, so all would be right…oh yeah, and Indianapolis would start with the ball in the second half.

At least they should have.

No matter where your football alliance lays, Sean Payton’s gutsy call to open the second half with an onside kick was brilliant. Surely it was not the safest call, but if it were your team you would have loved it. Instead of seeing if Manning could add to his teams’ lead, America watched the ball–and momentum–fall into the hands of the New Orleans Saints.

From that moment on, a collective queasy feeling struck all of Colts country. Indianapolis, and their fans, were just hoping they could overcome. But by that point Drew Brees was connecting on every pass, and the Colts defense could not tackle. I can count on one hand the number of first contact tackles Indy made the whole game. No matter where the Saints players were hit, you mentally added four or five yards to the play before it was completed.

With a 17-16 lead entering the fourth quarter, it was obviously still anyones game.

Nothing against Matt Stover, for the man came through for the Colts much more than he was first asked to, but he is 42-years old and hadn’t attempted a 50+ field goal in four seasons, it just isn’t his thing. Stover hooked left, Saints got the ball, Saints scored the ball. The two-point conversion really could have gone either way, but in the end I feel the referee got it correct.

Time for the fourth quarter comeback magic we had witnessed all season long right? Wrong. A third and five with the Colts moving efficiently on offense ended with a pick six to the house for New Orleans. Thanks for coming, drive home safe.

So here we are left in the aftermath.

Dwight Freeney played a heroic game on a bad ankle and was even able to register the only sack of Super Bowl XLIV. Joseph Addai played his best game of the season but was unused most of the second half. The real conversation is of course about Peyton Manning and his legacy.

For the latter part of this NFL season, and throughout the playoffs, it was all about how Peyton Manning had finally reached that level. The two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl all of the talking heads were debating whether or not No. 18 was the greatest quarterback of all time. The past two days since the Super Bowl, these same media men and women are debating on whether or not he is the biggest choke artist.

Well, I have the definitive answer so you may want to sit down.

He is neither. In fact we won’t know what he is until the day he stops playing. At this point, Peyton Manning has only ensured that he is one of the NFL’s greatest of this generation, and that he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer when it comes time for him to go to Canton. That is it.

A legacy can only be a legacy when it is something left to future generations from the past. Since the man is still playing, his career must be approached from the present. If Manning and the Colts pop out three, four maybe even five more Super Bowl championships all signs point to him being called the greatest. If the Colts never see the playoffs again while Peyton is calling the shots, he is still one of the greatest of this era based on PAST experiences.

If you want to designate someone as a choke artist, look no further than the man the city of Indianapolis was almost saddled with in the 1998 draft. Ryan Leaf is a choke artist. Peyton Manning is a damn good football player.

Although this is painful for Colts fans to watch, the city of New Orleans sure seemed to appreciate their first Super Bowl victory.

Now as for the victors, man it is hard to be upset all that long knowing the New Orleans Saints won. This win was not about karma or a bit of restitution for the horrible tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. In fact, karma has nothing to do with sports–unless you are Bill Belichick, in which case yes it is karma.

No, this was a game decided by who was the better team Sunday night, and that team was New Orleans. In fact, the Saints played the exact game I expected to see from the Indianapolis Colts. A bit of a struggle early while they surveyed what the opposition was doing, a little something before half time and a strong second half to win it.

A great lesson for everyone was shown Sunday night. Everyone from the sports atheist who can’t understand how anyone could care about sports especially this much, to the guys and gals who need to take a step back and realize what is really important in life. We can all learn from this past Super Bowl. The reason sports are so important in America, and really the world over, is due to their unifying power.

Strangers who in any other circumstances would never cross paths or attempt to interact with one another, are brought together behind a single rallying cry for the greater good. Try telling the still devastated city of New Orleans that sports don’t matter. Even if the Super Bowl hangover lasts only for a day or a week or even a month,this might have been the best day they’ve had in four years.

If watching that city celebrate on Sunday night you thought that all of those people started this season as Saints fans you’d be wrong. I would bet a staggering number of those individuals sporting Drew Brees jerseys and fleur de lis painted on their face didn’t know who Brees was five months ago. And now they have a city full of new best friends.

For everyone in the Circle City who is walking a step slower and has their head hanging a bit lower, try and picture your counterpart in New Orleans who today is walking a step faster and holding their head high for once. Yes, it snowed heavily this weekend, and yes it is going to snow heavily again tonight. But tomorrow morning your house will still be standing, and you wont be swimming from room to room.

Those smiles are due to the power of sports. And while sports are a very powerful vehicle, seeing those oft-downtrodden fellow citizens now celebrate shows you just how big the world is outside of sports.

Since the devastating earthquakes that brought the nation of Haiti to its knees a month ago, we have seen many athletes of Haitian decent use their celebrity to help their fellow countrymen in anyway possible. Here in the Indianapolis media we have enjoyed Pierre Garçon’s growth as an athlete and watched him use it to help Haiti in anyway possible.

In no way am I a xenophobe, but I am certainly glad that plenty of the public’s attention has been refocused on the tragedies and hardships our own fellow citizens are still facing four years later. If you can’t be at least a little happy for them, than it is time you stop watching sports because you are missing the point. It is and always has been about celebrating success rather than wallowing in defeat.

One final note for Indianapolis Colts fans everywhere. Yeah this sucks now, but the Colts are  the NFL model of consistency over the past decade. This was not a streaky team that got hot at the right time for once and will be one and done. With injuries and contracts always changing the landscape of this league, nothing can be guaranteed. Nevertheless I will say this, you’ve got to be excited for next year. A mostly young offense will be a year older, more experienced and hopefully healthier. Same goes for the defense.

My only caution would be that the Indianapolis Colts run on of the most watered down offenses in the NFL. They separate themselves from the rest of the league through their preparation and execution. They practice the, “even though you know what’s coming try and stop it approach.” Well, judging by the late fourth quarter interception and return that was the icing on the Saints Super Bowl cake, maybe it is time to add a wrinkle or two.

The culprit on that play was New Orleans Tracy Porter who said he knew what was coming before the ball was snapped. So maybe I’m wrong, but maybe I’m not. On the plus side, if someone like me can see this, I’m sure the Colts see this as well. Right?

Again, to all of Colts Country try and relax. Now you can shift focus, get ready for April’s draft.

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