FIGHTING TO THE END

In the wake of a season-ending loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game, Colts players said Sunday the accomplishments of the season will be appreciated - someday. 'You appreciate the fact that we fought,' linebacker Gary Brackett said.

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Overcoming Adversity, Making Playoffs Will Be Lasting Memory of 2010, Colts Players Say
INDIANAPOLIS – No way did Jeff Saturday expect this.

Other Colts players said they felt the same – that before late Saturday night, the thought never really entered the mind that this week would be spent doing anything but what they had been doing the past four-plus months.

Game-planning. Preparing. Playing football.

Saturday, the Colts' four-time Pro Bowl center, said on Sunday – a day after the Colts' season-ending loss to the New York Jets – that that's what's so tough about not advancing in the post-season.

When the season ends, it ends fast. Too fast.

And way too suddenly.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shocked," Saturday said in the wake of a 17-16 loss to the Jets in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.

"I thought beyond a shadow of a doubt we'd be playing next week. It's disappointing. It's a disappointing loss, and it's disappointing anytime a season ends."

The loss to the Jets put a sudden end to a memorable season, one in which the Colts tied the NFL record held by the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys with a ninth consecutive post-season appearance.

They also won a seventh AFC South title, and placed four players in the Pro Bowl – quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

"I think the fact that we made it to the playoffs is a testament to the consistency of this team," Colts offensive tackle Ryan Diem. "To make it to the playoffs nine years in a row is special. There are a lot of those that come and go in this league and never have a chance to go to one.

"They're (seasons) all special in their own way. This one was different. There were more peaks and valleys than we're used to. It was a little more up and down, but the bottom line is we still made it to the playoffs. We didn't execute well enough to get to where wanted to go. But we accomplished our first goal, winning the division.

"That's a credit to everyone on this team – working hard through good times and bad."

The Colts, after a three-game losing streak dropped them to 6-6 in early December, won their last four regular-season outings to clinch a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons, entering the post-season with the momentum of their longest winning streak of the year.

They did so, players said Sunday, by fighting.

That meant playing through adversity, playing with young players in place of veterans, and playing through circumstances rarely faced during the past decade.

"You appreciate the fact that we fought," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said.

And on Saturday night, they did so again.

The Colts, playing without not only the 17 players placed on injured reserve this season, but with linebacker Clint Session, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson and right tackle Ryan Diem inactive, shutout the Jets in the first half. The half, Brackett said, was indicative of the Colts' season.

Players such as tight end Dallas Clark, wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie, as well as cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden and safeties Melvin Bullitt and Bob Sanders finished the season on injured reserve, and throughout the season, players such as running back Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown missed extensive time.

"Despite the circumstance, despite who was injured, despite the losing streak or whatever the case may be, this was a team that fought for 60 minutes," Brackett said. "I don't think you see that every week from every NFL team."

The Colts led 7-0 at halftime after Manning passed 57 yards to wide receiver Pierre Garcon late in the second quarter.

The Jets rallied with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by LaDainian Tomlinson, but the Colts – who won three of their final four games by five points or less – rallied from a four-point fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter field goals by kicker Adam Vinatieri.

The second of those field goals came from 50 yards, and put the Colts ahead with 53 seconds remaining, but Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Jets 46. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez completed three passes for 38 yards, and Nick Folk gave the Jets the victory with a 32-yard field goal as time expired.

"Losing on a last-second field goal – I think Peyton summed it up – it stings," Saturday said. "It's just a bad feeling."

Bad enough, Saturday said, that not reviewing the tape of the game was an appealing option.

"I don't know if it's worth it," Saturday said. "You know what happened in the game. We got there. We had the opunity. We didn't take advantage of it. But it's football. They played well enough to win at the end. You have to give them credit."

Indianapolis, after overcoming extensive injuries in the secondary, and to the receiving corps, not only entered the post-season on its longest winning streak, it entered having improved in the running game and stopping the run late in the season.

With Addai returning to full health after missing time with a neck injury, the Colts continued to run effectively at times against the Jets, but allowed 169 yards and the two touchdowns by Tomlinson.

That was enough, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said, to allow the Jets to control the clock in the third quarter. And while the Colts rallied to lead, a quick late drive by the Jets ended Indianapolis' NFL record-tying nine post-season appearances far sooner than anyone in the Colts' locker room wanted.

"Right now, it's definitely not the time to think about it," Saturday said. "I felt like we let one slide by (Saturday) night. We had an opportunity to win it. It's tough to get over that. It's one of those things where you can look back, but the reality is this season's over.

"No matter how you look back, it's a frustrating feeling."

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