Indy is a little bleary-eyed today. And for good reason.
Man, was that some game last night. From the Colts fan perspective, it had about all we could ask for. The brief, but appropriate, tribute to Peyton Manning before the game. The quick three-and-out by Denver to start the game. A vintage Manning drive after a couple punts that put an “Uh oh, here we go,” vibe in the stadium. The huge plays by the Colts defense to change the tide of the game (Four different times, no less!). Andrew Luck and the Colts offense getting rolling in the second and third quarters. The constant feeling that there weren’t enough points on the board and Peyton always had a chance to get back in it. The inevitable Broncos rally and tense final moments. And the joy of taking the final snap, kneeling, and walking out not only beating Peyton, not only giving Denver their first loss of the year, but also of winning a third game against one of the elite teams in the league.
The Colts likely aren’t a true elite team. I think a true running team will still give them fits. And they’re getting killed by injuries. But with the AFC South looking awful, they have a terrific shot of reclaiming the division title a year earlier than I expected. And, who knows, if the Chiefs can out-distance the Broncos in the AFC West, maybe Denver comes back to Indy in early January.
But that’s thinking far too out in the future.
More about last night’s game.
It was awfully angsty around Indy this week. Someone asked me if it was kind of like when KU played Roy Williams and North Carolina in the 2008 Final Four. There was a little of that feeling. But Roy spurned KU, and at that point, a lot of KU fans were still angry at him. We wanted to beat him badly and watch him cry afterwards. The Colts are the ones who turned their backs on Peyton. I think there was a minority of fans who thought that was a dumb decision, conveniently forgetting that the Colts success over the past two seasons hasn’t just been about Luck, but about rebuilding the entire roster, something they could not have done with Peyton’s contract on the books. But I don’t think anyone in Indy was really mad about letting Peyton go anymore. We were excited he was coming back and eager to give him a formal thanks for his years as a Colt. But there was also a nervousness about how well the Broncos had played through their first six games, and fear the Colts would be on the short end of another video game score. We wanted to beat Denver, but there was no ill will in it the way Jayhawks fans wanted to beat Roy. Also, I think there’s a huge difference in the pressures of a regular season game vs. that of a chance to play for your sport’s championship.
A saw a couple comments last night that the pre-game tribute to Peyton was too short. Dumb criticism. He’s going to get an awkward 15 minute tribute complete with highlights, testimonials, and long readings of all the records he set as a Colt after he retires. The night he came back as the QB of the opponent was not the occasion to make it a formal Peyton Manning Night.
I wondered if Al Michaels would mention the oddity of having the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium open. He did not disappoint. The rule has generally been the roof, and north window, are only open when it’s dry and the temperature is between 60 and 80. Which lots of people here have commented is a terribly dumb policy. Football is an outdoor sport, and playing in the dry chill of fall isn’t imposing too much on either the players or fans. In fact, as many taxpayers of central Indiana have pointed out, why spend the money on a roof that opens if you’re going to limit yourself to using it a couple times a year? Awfully interesting that the first time they diverted from standard procedure was the night Peyton came back. Gamesmanship can be fun.
Robert Mathis is an absolute beast. Watch him on the sidelines when he has his helmet off. He looks like he was created in a lab to torture quarterbacks, not born and brought up in Alabama. Dwight Freeney was an all-timer. But Mathis has been incredible for the last 4-5 seasons.
Since I adopted the Colts the year we moved here, I’ve loved several of their players. Bob Sanders. Edgerrin James. Jerraud Powers. Freeney and Mathis. But my favorite player has always been Reggie Wayne. When we first got here, I loved his youth and brashness, which were a perfect balance to Marvin Harrison’s experience and reticence. Still, I hated it when Reggie called out Peyton back in the ’03 or ’04 season, saying Manning needed to throw him the ball more. But, to everyone’s credit, Peyton told Reggie that he needed to work harder to earn his trust, Reggie did exactly that, and turned into the consummate pro. He’s never popped off since then, and turned into a warrior in practice, in games, and in the community. And all Colts fans loved him for spurning offers from the Broncos, among others, and choosing to stay in Indy to help with the rebuilding process. So I, like a lot of folks in Central Indiana, felt sick when his knee slipped last night and he writhed around in pain. Losing him for the season would be a huge hurdle for the Colts.
How the hell does Wes Welker make some of those catches?
I’m generally pro-offense when it comes to football rules. And the Broncos run their pick plays to perfection. As Cris Collinsworth noted, they run them in a way that they usually don’t make contact but still free up receivers. That said, I’m not sure how Welker got away with shoving a cornerback, in the back no less, right in front of an official while the ball was in the air and the CB was making a play on it. Fortunately for the Colts, there were two DBs in the area and the play ended up going for a loss.
Ironic that the Colts are so handsy on defense, given it was the Colts of a decade ago who complained loudly about Harrison and Wayne getting mugged by New England DBs and were the impetus for the rules changes that neutered NFL d-backs.
One final note on NFL passing rules. If a receiver complains, whines, or throws a fit about getting a pass interference call, the penalty should be halved. “Pass interference, number 39 on the defense. That is normally a ten-yard penalty, but number 88 on the offense whined like a little bitch, so we will only be marking off five yards. Second down.”
Vontae Davis’ Tom Brady misspeak after the game was an all-time great one. Who knows if it was deliberate, a slip of the tongue, or if he was so nervous to talk on NBC that he really had no idea what he was saying. But it was fantastic ending to the week, as was Bob Costas’ reaction. “Thanks to Andrew Luck, Robert Mathis, and especially Vontae Davis, who apparently had his own game plan for tonight, preparing for Tom Brady rather than Peyton Manning.”
Jim Irsay should shut his trap.
So a great night at Lucas Oil. The Colts are 5-2 after a tough first-half schedule, two games up in the division, three over Houston. They have a bye week coming up, then go to Houston. After that, they have the Rams, Titans twice, and Cardinals before a tough December stretch of at Cincinnati, Houston, and at Kansas City in three weeks. When I looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, I kept ending up at eight wins. The Wayne injury makes the math tougher, but now I’m coming closer to 11 wins. We’ll see how it all works out.