Like a cannon ball through your suburban window, it's time to shatter some myths.
I mean, you can't honestly expect me to talk about yesterday's game, can you?
There's a popular refrain in some quarters these days that the Colts 0-13 start proves that Peyton Manning was the only good thing about the Colts for the last decade. Many have argued that the Colts have secretly been a terrible team and that Manning was winning 12 games on his own every year.
I doubt there is anyone in the world more convinced of the greatness of Peyton F. Manning than I am, but even I have my limits. There have been moments and seasons when, yes, Peyton carried the Colts. Notably, in the 2002 season, Manning and Harrison more or less tagged teamed the Colts to the playoffs. In 2008, he got a lot of help from Mathis and Freeney, but essentially strong-armed his way into the playoffs. There's no denying that the Colts have been intentionally top-heavy by design.
The argument that the team was secretly horrible (0-16 bad) every year, and that Peyton was Tebowing his way to the playoffs every season is as foolish as the idea that Tebow is Tebowing his way to the playoffs (uh, he has a defense folks...and one amazing kicker).
So, if the Colts actually have talent (and have had talent), then why are the 0-13? Why are they so horrible?
1. The design of the team. The entire franchise has been hard-wired around Peyton Manning. The offense is an insane bundle of route-options that receivers and quarterback all have to make simultaneously and telepathically. It's simultaneously incredibly simple (not a lot of moving parts), and insanely complex (look at the defense, know which route to run, count on the QB throwing the ball to the right spot BEFORE you break). The team has been relying on Peyton to be a coach/coordinator on the field. This team lost its heart, soul, and head when Manning went down.
People want to point to the Patriots 11-5 season without Brady and note how much better Peyton is than Tom Terrific. The truth is that it's not a great comparison. The Patriots system was never built around Brady the way the Colts are built around Manning. The best argument that Brady is a Hall of Fame QB is not his rings or the wins. It's pretty clear the Patriots would probably have plenty of those without him. The best case for Brady has been how crazy good he has been for about six years now.
The Colts intentionally built a team and an offense to maximize and capitalize on the skills of Manning. That was smart. When you have a truly unique once-in-a-generation talent, you do that. you double down on his talent year after year. You build the whole thing on him because you know he gives you a chance to win it all every single season. You do that knowing that minute he's gone, you are screwed. Oh, so very very screwed.
There's a really good metaphor involving Star Wars that even I'm too embarrassed to publish here. Click if you want to read it.
2. The backup QBs are far, far worse than average. So, about that "Dan Orlovsky gives us a chance to win" theme...That had to be the single stupidest meme ever created. Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky give no one a chance to win. They are terrible. Let's go over Orlovsky's day yesterday: sacks, fumbles, overthrows, inaccuracy, picks, bad reads, 4 yard routes...yup it's official! He's Curtis Painter! Should he be playing? Yeah. Is he any better on any level than Painter? Nope.
Colts fans were so quick to want to run Kerry Collins out of town, but I still feel like had he not gotten a concussion he would have eventually looked average. He had a level, at least in theory, that the other two just could never aspire to. Back in those heady days, however, people were still deluding themselves that this team could get 5 wins. Poor confused bastards.
The Colts used every ounce of roster room the past 10 years. They had a QB who NEVER missed a snap and NEVER came out of the game. There was no way to get a decent backup to come and play for the league minimum with zero hope of ever getting a starting job. So they rolled the dice on guys like Painter. Finally, Peyton went down. It was a good gamble for six years and a bad gamble for one. I can live with that.
This team would win games with an average NFL QB. What they have had this year is Gabbert-esque. (Oh, how I hope that becomes a synonym for terrible for years to come). The truth is that the Colts didn't have Matt Cassel (a very very average QB). They didn't have Randy Moss (the greatest QB maker of all time). They had Curtis Painter and Dan "I've never ever played in a winning game so only a total idiot would claim that I give the team a chance to win" Orlvosky.
What happened to the Pats in 2007 and what happened to the Colts in 2011 aren't really comparable at all.
3. The coaches were arrogant and uncreative. The 'do what we do' mentality has served this franchise well. It kept the ship on course in 2006. It helped the team not to panic in 2008 and 2010. It lead to numerous comeback wins because everyone knew that if they all just kept their heads down and kept plugging away that Peyton Manning would eventually destroy the other team. This year, the coaches stuck to the same theme. Instead of installing a run-heavy offense they drug their feet for weeks. They showed no creativity and no adaptability. It was as if they believed so strongly that if they just kept telling the team everything would be ok that it would magically be ok. Sometimes, it's ok to panic. Instead of pulling out the stops and doing things like never punting, running for 25 straight plays, anything that might help, they just kept plugging away.
The result is the same stupid gameplan every week. Indy opened the game yesterday with back to back four yard routes. I mean...yeah.
This coaching staff has coached in denial from day one. From the day camp opened they acted like Manning was coming back. When it was clear he wasn't, they still acted like he was coming back. I don't blame Caldwell and company for the losses. I blame them for the insane way they've handled the losses. Why do Colts fans love Jeff Fisher so much? Because when he was outgunned in 2004, he freaking went for onsides kicks all first quarter long. Why not? He knew he had no chance to win that game, so he freaking tried crazy crap because there is something worse than losing:
Losing without trying to win.
4. This defense was always going to be bad. I told you all before the season I thought Indy had a bottom five defense. I've been screaming for months that the secondary needed help and that fixing the run game wouldn't lead to more wins. If anything, the version of the defense that we saw early in the year was actually better than I expected. Still you can only lose so many starters before it all falls apart. This Colts D is NOT the same Colts D that they fielded from 2005-2010. It's gotten worse. A big part of that was the insanity of Larry Coyer. Coyer kept bastardizing the Cover-2 which was at its finest in 2008. People who think the Colts D has always been this are wrong. This isn't what took the field in 2007. It's a new, horrible thing that will hopefully never see the light of day again.
Even with the defense as it is, this is probably still a 10-12 win team if Manning plays. It wouldn't be as good as previous years' 10-12 wins, but the AFC is way down. The entire conference is weak. The Steelers and Pats simply aren't what they once were. This team wouldn't have been a great team in 2007, but could have been in 2011.
There are at least three major contenders (Pats, Saints and Packers) who are basically living off their QBs right now. The Colts model has spread throughout the NFL. Look at the Pack. They have a TERRIBLE pass defense (and they are far far more vulnerable in the playoffs than people realize). Rodgers is playing at the highest level, so you don't even notice the big glaring holes they have. Having a bad defense will hurt you eventually, but you can skate with it all the way to the playoffs. The Pats D isn't any better than the Indy D. They just have Tom Brady playing incredible football.
From 2002-2010, Indy had many seasons where the team was stocked with talent from top to bottom. It wasn't just Manning and the 21 dwarfs. This season doesn't prove that at all. Every player who wore a horseshoe for the last 10 years wasn't some kind of middle-school level fraud relying on Peyton to earn them a paycheck every week. It's revisionist history at best, and a total insult to some truly amazing football players who were every bit as good as we thought they were.
Throughout this entire season, I've been calm. I'm tired of watching the Colts lose. It tears me up inside. Every week is torture. Here's why I'm calm though:
This is the deal we made.
The Colts pushed the envelope of contention out further than any team in history. It shouldn't be possible to do what they've done for as long as they've done it. During one of the strongest phases any conference has ever gone through, the Colts won every year. They didn't just win...they won 12 games. They won 10 games. If the Colts had been an NFC team the last decade, they would have gone to 5 Super Bowls. People always forget to account for overall conference strength when they think historically. It's what got teams like Buffalo and Denver to the Super Bowl EVERY YEAR. Indy didn't have that luxury, but kept winning anyway.
To pull that off, the Colts had to roll the dice on Manning every year. They pushed the cap to the limit every year. They drafted in the bottom of the draft every year.
The NFL system is designed to make you pay. Look at the Patriots. They are in the same boat. Brady is now lugging them along the way Manning did. Their team is feeling the effects of years of winning. It takes a toll. Salaries go up. Draft picks go down. You can only keep it afloat for so long.
I knew the moment Peyton was out that the result would be a 3 win season or less. I openly talked about 0-16 and Andrew Luck from day one.
This is the deal we made.
If had to go back in time and make it again, I would.
I'd gladly trade this 2011 season for 2002-2010. I'd do it in a heartbeat.