Day After Season Ends "Always a Tough Day," Caldwell Says
INDIANAPOLIS – As it does for nearly every NFL team nearly every season, the end came in disappointing fashion for the Colts late Saturday night.
The end came suddenly, too.
And although Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said it's hardly as if the Colts will be the only team in the NFL in this season or any other season to experience the suddenness of a post-season loss, company in this case does little to lessen the misery.
The Colts' season ended on a last-play field goal Saturday night.
And Caldwell said that's a pain that lingers.
"Today is always a tough day," Caldwell said Sunday, a day after the Colts' season ended with a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.
"Everything comes to a grinding halt. You've been making preparations for the next week. Your schedule is ready – all of those things – then all of a sudden, all of the things you had planned in terms of going forward no longer exist.
"That's a tough part of it. It's a difficult part and something you don't ever get used to."
The Colts, after winning their final four regular-season games to win a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons, rallied from a four-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a 16-14 lead before Jets kicker Nick Folk's 32-yard field goal as time expired sent New York to next week's AFC Divisional Playoff round.
"There's only one happy team at the end of the year in this league," Caldwell said. "That's it. It's a competitive atmosphere and whoever wins the Super Bowl is going to be the only team, obviously, that feels good about what they got accomplished that year.
"Everybody else feels, 'Hey, we have to do better – we have to do more, etc., etc. Let's get ourselves in position to be a more functional team next year.' That's where everybody ends up at some point in time except for one team. There's no bowl-game feel good in this league."
The Colts' post-season appearance was their ninth in nine seasons, tying them with the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys for the longest such streak in NFL history.
But on Sunday, as the Colts prepared for a 3 p.m. season-ending meeting, Caldwell said the team's accomplishments were tough to appreciate so soon after a heart-breaking loss.
"I was up a while," Caldwell said. "Let's just say I didn't get a whole lot of sleep."
The Colts, after holding Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders and Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans less than 100 yards rushing in three victories to end the regular season, allowed Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson 82 yards on 16 carries.
Jets second-year running back Shonn Greene rushed for 70 yards on 19 carries, and New York rushed for 169 yards on 38 carries.
During the four games to end the regular season, the Colts allowed an average of 79.75 yards a game rushing.
"It's certainly quite obvious that we didn't stop the run as well as we'd like," Caldwell said. "That's one of the things you have to do against a team like that – you have to stop them from running to make them a little more one-dimensional. We were just off a couple of times, a few places here and there. That's all good backs need."
The Jets, after trailing 7-0 at halftime, scored on their first two possessions of the second half, with Tomlinson finishing each drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Jets a 14-10 lead. The Jets used 15:06 and rushed for 92 yards on the two series.
"In this league, you do your job or maybe someone may be able to do it a little bit better in some situations," Caldwell said. "They were able to perform a little better than we did. We knew they were certainly capable. They have very good backs and a good offensive line.
"We had been stopping it pretty well, but particularly in that third quarter they controlled the clock on us and controlled the ball."
Caldwell also said the Colts didn't run the ball as well as they wanted, finishing with 93 yards on 27 carries, and that Colts also didn't cover kicks as well as possible. A 47-yard kickoff return by cornerback Antonio Cromartie helped set up a 32-yard game-winning field goal by Nick Folk as time expired.
"We just made a few too many mistakes, and at this stage of the game, you don't get repeats," Caldwell said. "You don't get do-overs."
Caldwell said much of the coaching staff will be off for "a couple of weeks" before returning to evaluate personnel and planning for 2011.
"We'll take a good look at that and move on from there," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said there's a reason the evaluation doesn't occur immediately following the season.
"That's exactly what you don't want to do (evaluate immediately)," he said. "You come in, take a look at the film and make some assessments. It can be a bit emotional and not nearly as objective as it should be.
"That's really the point. You have to make sure you have a sober mind so that you can focus and make good decisions."
Those decisions will come in the wake of a season that featured a slew of injuries, particularly late in the season. The Colts placed well more than a dozen players on injured reserve, including tight end Dallas Clark, safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt, cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden and wide receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez.
Linebacker Clint Session, right tackle Ryan Diem and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson missed Saturday's game, and running backs Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Mike Hart and wide receiver Pierre Garcon also missed multiple games.
Caldwell said the 2010 Colts were "probably unlike any other group I've ever seen" when it came to persevering through difficult situations.
"They obviously had probably more adversity to deal with over the course of the season than most teams," Caldwell said. "They did it in grand fashion. Obviously, they were able to stare it right in the eye. They didn't weep and complain. They didn't implode. They didn't point fingers.
"What they did was went to work. They did everything they possibly could to get us in a position to win. That took teamwork. It took some cooperation between everybody involved.
"We're not satisfied certainly with where we ended up, but I think the guys did a heck of a job."