Younger Players Gain Valuable Experience in Sunday Night Victory
Sunday's thrilling comeback victory over the New England Patriots was one of many memorable games the Indianapolis Colts have played in recent years, but it was a first for several of the team's younger players.
On Monday, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said his team's 35-34 victory over the Patriots was particularly valuable to the team's newcomers.
While veterans like Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney are experiencing their third 9-0 start in five seasons, several Colts players, such as rookies Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey and Kyle DeVan, are new to the team's success and played Sunday night in one of the most critical games of their short careers.
"Now they can draw upon that experience on how to conduct yourself during tough times when things look a little bleak," Caldwell said. "Never lose faith, just keep plugging, no complaining, no pointing fingers; 'Let's keep trying to get it done.' It was a great effort by our guys."
With injuries thrusting younger players into the starting lineup, Caldwell said the Colts' youngsters are gaining experience quickly.
"At some point in time I'm going to stop referring to them as young guys because a lot of them have gotten pretty seasoned around here," the Colts coach said. "Particularly with some of the games that we've had that have been so close."
Two of the Colts' youngest players – Powers and Lacey – started their second consecutive game together at cornerback Sunday night. All week leading up to the game, observers talked about the challenge the duo faced in defending Patriots wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and the two veteran receivers took advantage of the Colts' inexperienced secondary early.
"Early on (Randy) Moss gave us some problems," Caldwell said. "He did indeed stretch the field and make some big plays on us. But I think overall, when it came down to it, our guys settled down. They were able to control the passing game a little better."
The defense yielded 375 passing yards, but it also came up with an interception, two sacks, a fumble recovery and several timely stops against the Patriots. The timeliest of all being the crucial fourth-down stop at the end of the game that set up the Colts' game-winning touchdown.
"The young guys on the perimeter, I think, held their own, and I think they learned a lot," Caldwell said. "Powers had a very good game. He played extremely well. (Lacey), also, held his own.
"Overall, I think that's an area that we're going to have to continue to look at to make certain that we're improving, but we were pleased with the effort we received from them," he said.
On the offensive line, Caldwell said he was impressed with the performance of first-year guard Kyle DeVan, who was starting the second game of his career.
"He's a fighter, a very tough-minded individual. He will scratch and dig with the best of them," he said. "He's been improving constantly. It's been a good competition between the two (DeVan and OG-Mike Pollak). It's not over yet…we look at it every single week, as critical as we would if we were losing."
In addition to DeVan, the Colts offense also received big contributions Sunday night from a pair of two young receivers, rookie Austin Collie and second-year veteran Pierre Garcon.
The duo combined for nine catches and 95 yards against the Patriots, including Garcon's 29-yard touchdown reception at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
But the two youngsters also struggled at times, dropping balls the receivers have typically caught over the first eight games.
"I think they were trying to run with it in a couple of cases before they caught it," Caldwell said. "I think you'll see that every once in a while with some young guys, just a lapse in concentration, and that's all it really takes."
In addition to his players, Caldwell, as the Colts' first-year head coach, also was going through a bit of a new experience Sunday night. There were key decisions to be made late in the contest.
"I learned a long time ago that if you don't stay focused in those critical situations that oftentimes you can miss a few things here or there. So, I try to concentrate as much as I possibly can until that final whistle blows because there is just so much going on," he said. "You have to keep all of those things in perspective. Oftentimes, I'm listening to something going on either with our offensive or defensive side of the ball, or in our kicking game. It's kind of like an air traffic controller. I have to stay rather focused at that time."
After the victory, Caldwell described his post-game speech as "nothing unusual," but said the team discussed how they knew Sunday would be a heavyweight fight and a 60-minute grind.
"I also told them I was very proud of them and the way they fought," he said.
Caldwell said he tried to stay as calm as possible during the waning moments of Sunday's back-and-forth game and said it took critical focus to remain composed.
"I try not to get too excited until it's all over with," he said.
As for when the game was finally over Sunday…
"Now, that locker room was pretty jubilant when it was all done," he said. "And I certainly enjoyed that."