Colts Slip to Second Place in AFC South Entering Final Four Games of 2010 Season
INDIANAPOLIS – As Jim Caldwell saw it, what was happening wasn't all that unusual.
Caldwell, in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said he didn't necessarily expect the team to be .500 with four weeks remaining in the regular season, but he also said the Colts were still very much in contention for the AFC South title.
That was not a shock, Caldwell said.
Not considering the nature of the 2010 NFL season.
"Looking at the way things have gone on throughout the year, you can see there are only a few teams who have really separated themselves from the pack," Caldwell said. "I think consistency across the league has not been commonplace in terms of teams putting back-to-back wins together, and stringing wins together.
"It has left a lot of opportunities for a number of teams, including us."
At that point in the season, Caldwell said what the Colts mostly needed was a winning streak.
The Colts exited the third quarter 6-6 – a game out of first place in the division behind Jacksonville (7-5). The Colts and Jaguars, who were to play in Indianapolis December 19, each controlled their post-season destiny.
If the Colts won all of their remaining games, they would win their seventh AFC South title in eight years. Under that scenario, had Jacksonville won all of its games except its game against the Colts, the teams would finish tied at 10-6.
Indianapolis would win the division based on a better record against common opponents.
"It's pretty simple," Caldwell said of the scenario facing the Colts. "What we do every time we finish a quarter is look at the quarter results, and we take a look ahead in terms of the quarter. This is the fourth quarter coming up, and obviously we know what we have to do in terms of this quarter. Really, we try to spell it out to them and show them that obviously we have to be able to string four (wins) together in order to get that done.
"I don't think there's anything more plain than that, and I do know without question that they understand it as well."
A look at the four games in the third quarter of the 2010 season:
Game 9: INDIANAPOLIS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 17The Colts entered the second half of the season with a chance to take sole possession of first place in their division. They got it because they were resilient.
They also got it because of big plays from their defense.
Actually, they got more than a few big plays from the defense against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Game 9 of the 2010 season, and the result was an important, mid-season 23-17 victory.
"The defense did a tremendous job," Caldwell said after the Colts took a 17-0 lead before holding on for their sixth victory in the last eight games. "They played hard and played well."
The defense not only registered three sacks, the Colts also forced five turnovers that led directly to 17 of their 23 points.
"They came up big all day," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said of the defense after he completed 20 of 36 passes for 185 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.
"Three sacks and five turnovers, that's a tremendous day," Caldwell said, also noting the Colts limited Cincinnati's offense to 30 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
The Bengals rushed for 72 yards on 20 carries, with 42 of the yards coming on a fake punt run in the first half by Brian Leonard. Bengals running back Cedric Benson, who entered the game with 599 yards and three touchdowns on 161 carries through eight games, had 24 yards on 14 attempts.
"I don't know what kind of defensive statement we have today, but we do know internally we can make plays and we will make plays," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We're all in it together, and we can perform at a high level even with different faces in some places."
Turning point: The Colts took a 10-point halftime lead and on a day when the Colts forced five turnovers, a turnover provided early momentum. Kicker Adam Vinatieri's 28-yard field goal gave Indianapolis a 3-0 lead, and two plays later, the Colts took a double-digit lead on the Bengals' first turnover. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw to the right side of the field. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden intercepted and returned it 31 yards up the sideline for a 10-0 Indianapolis lead. It was Hayden's second interception return for a touchdown in three weeks. His first-half return against Houston on November 1 helped the Colts to an AFC South victory in that game.
Moment to remember: On a day when the Colts' defense shined, it was the defense that provided the defining moment throughout. The Colts, after leading by 10 points at halftime, limited the Bengals to one second-half touchdown – a 19-yard pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to tight end Jermaine Gresham with 2:35 remaining that cut Indianapolis' lead to 23-17. The Bengals recovered an onside kick at the Colts 40, but Freeney forced a fumble by Gresham that Mike Newton smothered to stop that possession at the Colts 34.
Note: The Colts once again played without a slew of injured players, including middle linebacker Gary Brackett, who missed with a toe injury after not practicing all week. Other Colts inactives were safety Bob Sanders, linebacker Clint Session, wide receiver Blair White, running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, cornerback Justin Tryon and wide receiver Austin Collie. Rookie Brandon James, playing in place of White, caught four passes for 36 yards after being signed from the practice squad, and rookie Javarris James rushed for a third touchdown in the last two games. Rookie Pat Angerer moved from the strong side to middle linebacker to replace Brackett, and with Session out, Kavell Conner and Philip Wheeler started at linebacker.
Quote to note: "It's just like we've been saying, 'Next Man Up.' We don't have time to worry about who is not out there, who is not available. There is always somebody behind somebody. We're all on scholarship. There are no walk-ons right now."---WR-Reggie Wayne
Game 10: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31, INDIANAPOLIS 28The Colts, as they had done throughout the season, overcame adversity in dramatic fashion, and came oh-so close to a come-from-behind victory.
Only this time, it didn't happen.
Manning, playing with multiple starters out on offense and defense, threw four touchdown passes – including two during a frenzied fourth-quarter rally – but a late interception by safety James Sanders allowed the New England Patriots to hang on for a 31-28 victory in front of 68,756 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., in Game 10 of the 2010 NFL season.
"Our guys hung in there and played well in spurts," Caldwell said. "We just didn't quite get it over the hump, but they hung in there. They fought. The second half was a lot different than the first half. The defense stiffened a little bit and we were able to move the ball with a little more consistency.
"We gave ourselves a chance, at least."
The Colts, after trailing 31-14 early in the fourth quarter, pulled to within three on touchdown passes of five and 18 yards from Manning to Blair White. But after the defense forced a New England punt, Sanders intercepted Manning deep in New England territory to end the Colts' final chance.
"I'm just sick about not extending the game," said Manning, who completed 38 of 52 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions for a 96.3 passer rating.
"There's just no excuse not to extend the game there, and give (kicker) Adam Vinatieri a chance for the field goal. Certainly, we were going for the win. We had some time, had some timeouts.
"We felt like we had a good play called. Just a poor throw – it's just really sickening."
Manning added of the final throw, "I certainly didn't get everything on the throw I wanted."
Wayne caught eight passes for 107 yards and a first-half touchdown, and wide receiver Pierre Garcon caught five passes for 62 yards. Tight end Jacob Tamme caught seven passes for 60 yards and Collie caught five passes for 60 yards.
The Colts entered the game without Addai and Hart. They also were without Brackett and Session, as well as Sanders and Tryon. Donald Brown, starting his third consecutive game for Addai, rushed for a then season-high 68 yards on 17 carries, but it was Sanders' interception that defined the second half.
"He made quite a catch, but we were down there and had our opportunity," Caldwell said. "I don't think it falls on that one play. We can look back and see a lot of things we could have done better. We could have run the ball better. We could have done a lot of things a little better overall.
"There are a lot of things we need to get focused in on and see if we can play consistently well. If we play consistently the way we did in spurts today we'd have fewer problems."
Turning point: The Colts, after trailing by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, pulled to within three on touchdown passes of five and 18 yards from Manning to White. The Colts' defense then forced a New England punt, after which Manning drove the Colts to the New England 24 with :37 remaining. On 1st-and-10, Manning threw to Garcon on the right side of the field. Sanders intercepted and the Patriots ran out the clock.
Moment to remember: For the Colts' defense, there were many throughout the second half. After allowing three Patriots touchdowns in the first half, Indianapolis' defense allowed only one third-down conversion on five second-half opportunities. The Patriots scored only one field goal in the second half. "We got them off of the field, and I think that was big," Caldwell said. "Therefore, we gave our offense the opportunity to get the ball with some pretty good field position, too." With the Colts needing defensive stops and trailing 31-14 and 31-21, Indianapolis twice forced Patriots punts. New England ran seven offensive plays in that span.
Note: The Colts out-gained the Patriots 467-346 and converted 28 first downs to 22 for New England. They also had 396 passing yards to 186 for New England, but while the Patriots forced three takeaways Indianapolis forced none.
Quote to note: "We had a chance to win, but it's a tough way to lose. "We lost. That's the bottom line. Anytime you lose, you're not doing things right, so we've got to figure it out."---WR-Blair White
Game 11: SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 36, INDIANAPOLIS 14Peyton Manning saw things simply.
And while he said there were many, many reasons for a 36-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Game 11 of the 2010 season, he said there wasn't much time for complexities or analysis.
The Colts needed to play better, Manning said. And they needed to start soon.
"Our execution needs to improve," Manning said after the streaking Chargers (6-5) pulled away from the Colts throughout the second half. "It's not one specific area.
"I think everybody just needs to step it up a little bit."
While Manning said that was particularly true of the offense after a second consecutive loss, Caldwell said the result was a team-wide issue.
"It's always a collective issue," Caldwell said. "The defense, I thought, played extremely hard. No question about that – played really well in some spurts. It takes a full team effort to get it done.
"Against a team like that, you can't be lax in any area. We just weren't sharp."
Despite the loss, the Colts (6-5) remained in a first-place tie with Jacksonville (6-5) in the AFC South with five games remaining. Jacksonville and Indianapolis were a game ahead of Tennessee (5-6) and Houston (5-6).
"The good thing is, a lot of other teams in our division lost," Freeney said. "We are still in first place. Our first goal was to win our division, is still to win our division. So we need to do that.
"It's about getting into the playoffs. So I guess if you can take any good out of today, that's what it would be."
Added Manning, "We're fortunate, but from an offensive standpoint, we need to worry about the Colts. There are certainly some things we can control. That's what we have to worry about."
The Colts, as had been the case in many recent weeks, played through a variety of injuries, playing without Addai and Collie. Defensively, the Colts were without not only Sanders, but Brackett and Session.
The Colts finished with 24 yards rushing on 13 carries, and the Chargers finished with six tackles for losses, five quarterbacks hurries and six passes defensed.
"It is what it is," Manning said. "We know the situation going into the game. We just have to play better on offense. I thought the defense did a good job tonight keeping them out of the end zone, making them settle for field goals."
Manning completed 18 of 27 passes in the first half for 197 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 8 of 12 passes for 72 yards after entering the game as the NFL's passing yardage leader through 12 games.
Rivers finished the game with 185 yards passing and no touchdowns, and San Diego's lone offensive touchdown came on a three-yard run by Mike Tolbert early in the fourth quarter, but despite a solid effort defensively, the Colts afterward spoke of re-focusing and continuing to play through adversity.
"We need to re-group," Manning said. "This was not our night, for sure, on offense. We need to bounce back. It's disappointing when you lose, no question about it. We've lost three out of our last four. The real key is how we respond to it."
Turning point: The Colts committed five turnovers, including a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Keith Burnett with 2:00 remaining in the first quarter. In all, the Chargers – the NFL's top-ranked defense entering the game – scored 20 points off turnovers. The Chargers returned two interceptions for touchdowns, with safety Eric Weddle's 41-yard return with 8:21 remaining in the third quarter giving San Diego a 26-14 lead.
Moment to remember: A goal-line stand by the Colts kept the game close to start the second half. The Chargers drove to the Indianapolis 1 on the third-quarter's first series, but after two runs fell short of the goal line, Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster sacked Rivers for an 11-yard loss to force a 30-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding, his fourth of the game.
Note: Defensively, the Colts allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown, but otherwise held San Diego's offense – the NFL's top-rated unit in terms of total yardage – to five field goals.
Quote to note: "I think you have to put it in perspective. Obviously, we are disappointed. We don't want to be 6-5, but we are still in the hunt for our division and that's really what matters. That's what gets you in the playoffs. We are in a dogfight and making it tough on ourselves, but the good thing is we can still capture our first goal, and that is to win our division."---C-Jeff Saturday
Game 12: DALLAS COWBOYS 38, INDIANAPOLIS 35 (OT)All was still not lost.
Manning said that's what was important to remember in the wake of a back-and-forth, 38-35, overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in front of 67,471 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Game 12 of the 2010 season.
David Buehler's 38-yard field goal with 7:55 remaining in overtime gave the Cowboys (4-8) their third victory in four games and the Colts (6-6) their third consecutive loss.
But Manning said the reality was that four games remained, and although the Colts were not over .500 after 12 games for the first time in nine seasons, they were not out of the AFC South race.
"Our goal has always been to win our division," Manning said after the Colts rallied from deficits of 17 and 13 points to force overtime with a dramatic second-half rally. "We certainly have goals after that, and that's still our goal. We certainly have put ourselves in a hole, and we are having to play catch-up."
The Colts, who had won six of the past seven AFC South championships, slipped into second place in the division, a game behind the Jaguars (7-5).
"I don't think we've been 6-6 in a while," Freeney said. "We've just got to take one game at a time, like we've always done. We're going to try to keep this tunnel vision and get back to winning games and doing things the right way."
Dallas used much of the fourth quarter to re-take the lead, driving 81 yards on 18 plays with quarterback Jon Kitna passing to Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten for two yards and a 33-28 lead. Kitna's conversion pass into the right corner of the end zone to wide receiver Roy Williams gave the Cowboys a touchdown advantage.
The Colts then drove 81 yards for the tying touchdown.
Manning, who completed 6 of 8 passes for 74 yards on the drive, completed five passes to Wayne on the drive for 67 yards. Wayne's last reception – a 17-yarder – gave the Colts a first down at the seven. Javarris James then rushed twice for seven yards, and his two-yard run and ensuing Adam Vinatieri point after made it 35-35. Each team had chances during the remainder of regulation and each team also had possession early in overtime, but a Colts turnover led to a short Dallas field goal that left Indianapolis needing a huge December to keep their streak of consecutive post-season appearances alive.
"Our backs are on the wall," Colts defensive tackle Dan Muir said. "What it's going to do is show everybody what kind of men we've got in our locker room. I can guarantee you this: We are not going to give up. We are going to continue to fight and we are going to fight because that's what we do."
Said defensive end Robert Mathis, "We're going to respond, we've got to respond and we will respond. Just come back, bring your lunch pail, go to work, punch the clock. Let's go."
Turning point: Each team punted to start overtime, then Dallas linebacker Sean Lee's interception gave Dallas possession at the Colts 36. Dallas rushed five times for 16 yards, with Buehler's game-winner coming on 3rd-and-6. "It's kind of disheartening when you have an ending like that, but you just can't go in the tank about it," Mathis said.
Moment to remember: The Colts trailed 17-0 and 27-14, and rallying began in quick fashion early in the fourth quarter. First, James scored on a 1-yard run on the initial play of the fourth quarter, and after the Colts held the Cowboys without a first down on the next possession, wide receiver Taj Smith broke through the right side of the Dallas line and blocked Mat McBriar's punt. Smith recovered and returned it two yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It was Indianapolis' first blocked punt since 2007, and its first for a touchdown since 1989. "We took the lead and had an opportunity to do some things," Caldwell said. "We just fell short."
Note: Wayne caught 14 passes for a career-high 200 yards and one touchdown. "He did a lot of outstanding things for us out there, caught the ball in very crucial, tough situations," Caldwell said. "Reggie made some spectacular plays. Anytime that you catch for over 200 yards, that's a pretty good day's work." Wayne became the fourth Colts receiver with 200 or more yards receiving in a game, joining Raymond Berry, Roger Carr and Reggie Langhorne. Wayne's 34-yard third-quarter touchdown reception was his 68th and tied Berry for second in Colts history behind Marvin Harrison (128).
Quote to note: "You've got to stay alive, keep fighting, keep pushing. You can't get sidetracked. We know the goals we have to achieve."---DE-Robert Mathis