First Loss of Season Does Not Change Much For Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – A loss turned a possible 16-0 record into a thing of the past for the Colts, but it does not change the team's playoff picture or 2009 aspirations. Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the team is "disappointed," but moving on.
With a 15-10 lead in the third quarter, Indianapolis pulled a majority of its starters as expected. But what was not expected was the Colts' first regular-season loss in over 14 months, as the team succumbed to a late surge by the New York Jets and suffered its first loss of the season Sunday, 29-15.
"It's been a long time, obviously," Caldwell said. "But like anything else, I think our guys will be able to adjust to it and we'll move on. It is always disappointing when you lose, regardless of the circumstances."
But with a division title and number one playoff seed already clinched, and homefield advantage secured as long as the Colts win in the playoffs, Sunday's loss has no effect whatsoever on the team's main focus, the postseason.
"The most important thing for us is to make sure we are operating on all cylinders come the playoffs," Caldwell said. "That's key. That's important. And that's our focus."
All season, the Colts coach has said a perfect regular season was not on the team's radar, and that the organization's goal was to be playing its best come the playoffs.
"The most important season," Caldwell explained, "is the one coming up."
Caldwell deemed the loss "disappointing," but said he felt encouraged by several things he saw over the course of Sunday's game.
"Some of our young guys had an opportunity to play," Caldwell said. "There was some pretty good play on our interior (defensive line), and a couple of guys we haven't had a good look at had an opportunity to play.
"There were some good things there in that regard," he said. "Anytime you can get some guys a little bit of work it helps you in terms of depth."
With several starters missing all or a portion of Sunday's game, the Colts were able to feature younger players, such as rookie wide receiver Austin Collie, who finished with six catches for 94 yards, three yards short of his career-high.
The game also gave an opportunity for the Colts to rest some their injured players and work others back into the mix, such as rookie running back Donald Brown and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Brown rushed the ball a career-high 15 times and scored a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter after breaking several tackles at the goal line and bouncing to the outside.
Vinatieri, in his first game back since Week 5, made his only field-goal attempt of the game, converting a 22-yard kick in the second quarter.
The Colts defense also played well Sunday, forcing the Jets to punt on their first three possessions of the game and limiting the Jets to only a field goal in the first half. The unit also consistently put pressure on the quarterback, including two sacks by defensive end Dwight Freeney.
But even with the strong performances in certain sectors, quarterback Peyton Manning said the team did not play up to its potential in all phases of the game.
"I'm disappointed we didn't win the game, but hopefully we came out healthy, which is important," Manning said. "This was kind of our organizational philosophy and we stuck with it."
After Manning, who completed 14-of-21 passes for 192 yards, played the first series of the second half, rookie quarterback Curtis Painter relieved the veteran of his duties and took over under center.
Appearing in his first game since the preseason, Painter was greeted by the NFL's No. 1 overall defense early.
"That's a tough defense, multiple looks, multiple schemes and good players," Manning said. "For never having played in an NFL game, that was a tough spot."
But the first-year quarterback did not back down to the challenge, and Caldwell said the rookie gained some valuable experience Sunday.
In limited action, Painter completed 4-of-11 passes for 44 yards and one interception. His biggest play of the day came late in the fourth quarter when he hit tight end Tom Santi over the middle for a 22-yard gain.
"He's a guy that studies hard, and he'll benefit from this opportunity," Caldwell said. "You could even see he was getting a little bit better out there as time went on, and I think we'll continue to see that progress."
With the loss already in their rearview mirror, the Colts now face a week of preparation before traveling northeast to take on the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale next Sunday.
"The big thing we are looking at is a delicate balancing act in terms of keeping ourselves sharp and making sure guys are healthy and ready to go come the first round of the playoffs," Caldwell said.
Sunday's loss created some adversity for the Colts, but Caldwell said the team has overcome more difficult obstacles before.
"This team has been able to adjust to a number of circumstances," he said. "And we'll adjust to this one as well."
• On the second play from scrimmage Sunday, tight end Dallas Clark surpassed 1,000 receiving yards on the season (1,054) with an 18-yard reception over the middle. Clark becomes the first tight end in franchise history to record a 1,000 receiving yards in a season and the 15th tight end in NFL history.
• Manning became the fourth quarterback in NFL history Sunday to surpass 50,000 passing yards in a career, joining Brett Favre, Dan Marino and John Elway. "I haven't given it a whole lot of thought," Manning said. "Anytime something like that comes about, I'm just very thankful for having played with so many great teammates."
• Manning eclipsed 50,000 yards in just his 191st career game, becoming the fastest quarterback to ever accomplish the feat (Marino in 193 games previously held record).
• Sunday marked the 20th career multiple-sack game for defensive end Dwight Freeney. The Colts pass-rush specialist sacked Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez twice, giving him 13.5 sacks on the season. That total ranks second in franchise history behind Freeney's 16 sacks from 2004.