It must feel like Groundhog Day for Colts fans. Another playoff appearance, another failure to win even a single game. This time, it was a 17-16 loss at home to the wildcard Jets. Hell, we satisfied our ex-girlfriends more often than the Colts satisfy their excuse-making fans each January.
Meanwhile, King Rex and the Mouth that Roared has another week to flex his jaw muscles, with a possible career-defining game against AFC heavyweight and long-time rival New England just a week away.
1. Rex Ryan earns another week to Blow Hard ... with a Vengeance.
Ryan is the NFL's resident King of the Blow Hards. But, hey, it's a bottom line business and the Cold, Hard Football Fact of the matter is that he's delivered in his two short years at the helm. He's already the first Jets coach since Weeb Ewbank in the late 1960s to reach an AFL-AFC title game and divisional playoffs in consecutive years. With a win in New England next week, he'll be the only coach in franchise history to twice play for a shot at the Super Bowl – let alone do it twice in
And now, with all due respect to Bruce Willis & Samuel L. Jackson, he'll not just Blow Hard, but he'll do it with a Vengeance: the Jets were humiliated 45-3 when they visited Foxboro just last month.
(By the way, you know our references are dated when the movie clip shows an ancient piece of equipment called a "pay phone" ... life was so quaint back then.)
2. Peyton Manning came up small in the biggest game of the year once again, but the pattern is set in stone: everybody else will be blamed. The Colts had the benefit of playing at home in their cushy dome, fielding an offense that had produced an impressive 27.2 PPG. The well-trained Hoosier faithful rocked and rolled when the Jets had the ball, and were so silent with Manning behind center that you could hear every word he said on television.
His stat line at the end of the day was very good (18 of 226, 69.2%, 225 yards, 8.7 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 108.7 rating). But the fact of the matter is that it's all about the totals on the scoreboard.
And, for the first time all year, the Colts offense produced just one touchdown. Naturally, they produced this season-worst effort in the playoffs.
Nobody but the Cold, Hard Football Facts will ever dare criticize the almighty Manning. Virtually every other national observer suffers a debilitating case of Spinal Manningitis
. But if you're being every honest with yourself, you can't ignore the fact that the Colts have averaged just 14.2 PPG in 10 playoff losses (16, 17, 0, 14, 3, 18, 24, 17, 17 and 16 points). And those results began and end with the quarterback.
No team in history consistently did more in the regular season and less in the postseason. Indy famously boasts a nine-straight seasons of 10 or more wins, including a record seven straight seasons along the way of 12 or more wins. Going back 12 seasons, there have been 11 campaigns with double-digit victories.
Yet the Colts have gone one-and-done seven times in 11 postseason appearances with Manning at quarterback. All those 12, 13 and 14-win seasons (including one year with the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL) has produced just one truly memorable victory (AFC title game over New England) when the defense played poorly and just one Super Bowl victory.
The Colts lost six playoff games when their widely criticized defense held the opposition to 23 points or less.
Does that sound like a team that loses playoff shootouts behind the heroic gunslinging of an infallible quarterback who is hamstrung by a terrible defense? Of course not.
Fans and "pundits" can't with any credibilty give Manning all the credit when the Colts are among the league-leaders in regular-season scoring each year ... and then turn around and blame everybody else when the offense disappears every year in the playoffs.
But we know that's just what they'll do.
3. Manning certainly got no help from his top WR, Reggie Wayne, who did his best Marvin Harrison imitation. Wayne was wiped off the field Saturday night, mostly by CB Darrelle Revis, in a statement performance from the Jets defender. Wayne caught just 1 pass for 1 yard. It was an effort truly in the tradition of Indy's former regular-season superstar Harrison.
The future Hall of Fame wideout set every receiving record in Colts history – well, except in the playoffs. In 16 postseason games, Harrison caught just 2 TD passes, and both in the same game. In other words, he was kept out of the end zone 15 times in a full season's worth of playoff football.
4. LT finally had a moment in the playoff sun. LaDainian Tomlinson's dismal postseason career has been well chronicled. He came to the Jets this year hoping to shed the image. He began that process Saturday night, with 16 carries for 82 yards (5.1 YPA) and both of New York's touchdowns. Now he has to go into Foxboro and help knock off a team that haunted him in the playoffs during his San Diego years.
5. But credit New York's Offensive Hogs, who were the story of the game. The Jets came out in the second half with two monster drives totaling 27 plays, almost all of them on the ground. Each ended with a 1-yard scoring run by LT. On the second TD, he ran through a massive hole, the kind which you rarely see so close to the end zone.
At the end of the day, New York's sixth-ranked Offensive Hogs beat up Indy's 28th ranked Defensive Hogs.
6. Adam Vinatieri: still clutch. The Indy kicker is several years removed from his defining moments with the Patriots, including four of the most memorable clutch kicks in the history of football. But he played delivered his role perfectly again Saturday night, with a 50-yarder that gave the Colts a 16-14 lead with less than a minute to play.
It's not just that Vinatieri hits those clutch kicks that's so impressive. It's that he usually hits them so well in big moments. Both his Super Bowl-winning kicks were dead center and looked like they might have been good from 70 yards. Same thing again for the Colts: with Indy's season apparently hanging in the balance, his aging (38-year-old) leg just crushed a 50-yarder perfectly dead center in a big moment. Again, it would have been good from much greater distances.
Did you think even for a second he would miss it? Neither did we.
It didn't work out in the end. But we can sit back assured that Vinatieri will someday walk off into the sunset remembered as Mr. Clutch and will become the rare kicker with a bust in Canton. Quite a career for the – oh yeah – four-time Super Bowl champ.
7. Antonio Cromartie may be a disappointment at CB, but he produced the biggest play of the game in a critical moment on special teams. New York's situation looked hopeless: Manning led Indy downfield in the final minutes, and AV appeared to ice the game and a 16-14 victory with 53 seconds to play.
All Indy had to do was pin the Jets deep on the ensuing kickoff, and force Sanchez into a nearly impossible situation. Instead, Pat McAfee's kick just reached the goal line, and Cromartie broke loose against Indy's coverage team. He turned a hopeless situation into a hopeful situation with a 47-yard run back.
The Jets took over at their own 46 and needed just 40 yards to set up Nick Folk's easy 32-yard game winner.
8. Yes, Sanchez does have a little Elway in him. New York's quarterback is a long way from the Hall of Fame. But as we noted elsewhere this year, he does have a John Elway-esque ability to struggle – or even play poorly – for large stretches of a game yet then make all the big plays and big throws necessary at the end to win a game.
He completed 9 of his last 11 passes and his final throw was his best – a back-shoulder throw to Braylon Edwards on the final offensive snap of the game. It turned a potential 50-yard game-winning field goal effort into a much easier 32-yard effort. And Sanchez apparently made the call himself.
As he said in the postgame press conference: "I could have made the throw last year. I don't know if I could have made the decision."
9. Indy will apparently never make an effort to rebuild its Defensive Hogs. The Colts organization, and its fans, have been married to one-trick ponies Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for years.
They're certainly sack-masters. Freeney boasts 34 in the last three years, and 10 here in 2010. Mathis has taken down 31 quarterbacks in the last three years, including 11 here in 2010.
But the fact of the matter is the two players are vastly undersized for the position and Indy's Defensive Hogs have been a weak link for years. The 2010 season was no exception: No. 28 on our Defensive Hog Index, 25th against the run (4.57 YPA) and, despite Freeney's and Mathis's presence, the team struggled to force opponents into Negative Pass Plays (31st).
The unit forced just one sack Saturday night (by DT Daniel Muir), rarely pressured Sanchez and were manhandled for large stretches of the game by New York's offensive line. The organization seems to have a self-destructive aversion to fixing what's been a long-term problem on the defensive front and giving it the muscle to battle well in the postseason.
10. We'll witness a huge contrast on coaching styles this week. As recently as a few days ago, Jets coach Rex Ryan was ripping Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in one of his press conferences. New England coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, is the master of the give-em-nothing approach with the media.
The last time their teams met where it counts, though – on the field – Ryan's team was embarrassed. But we don't expect any humility out of him this week.
Ryan wears his heart on his sleeve and it's great theater. We'll know more if it translates into another great performance on the field, and another trip to the AFC title game, by next Sunday night.