Take a deep breath, Colts fans: The 2011 season is finally over, and it’s officially time to move on.
No more double-digit losing streaks.
No more moral victories.
No more Curtis Painter.
With Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville, an appropriate finish to the franchise’s worst season in 20 years, the debacle that was 2011 can now be put to rest for good and the focus can now finally shift to where many had already placed it several months in advance: 2012.
Are there brighter days ahead in Indianapolis?
Or was this season just a preview of how rocky the road back to relevance will ultimately be?
We’ll find out soon, as Indy is now poised for its most important offseason since drafting Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf some 14 years ago, but we do have a better idea of what to expect after seeing them perform in this final game of the year, and we do have a better understanding of just how bad this team really is now that we’ve seen them finish a full 16-game season.
Here’s a look at what the Colts taught us today about the mess we can’t forget they are still in and what it’s going to take for them to fix it.
There probably are a few scenarios where the Stanford quarterback and consensus No. 1 pick doesn’t join the Colts next season, but none of them are very plausible.
The Colts love this guy.
Everybody loves this guy.
We haven’t seen this much hype around a draft pick in any sport since LeBron James, and the guy happens to play a position the Colts will obviously have an enormous need for once the day finally comes when Peyton Manning is physically unable to play football anymore.
More than anything, this season was a stark reminder to the Colts organization that Manning is a human being and not an indestructible touchdown-throwing robot and a warning that he won’t always be there to cover up their other failures like he has in the past.
This season made it perfectly clear you can’t just plug any old quarterback into Manning’s role and expect similar results, either, and this afternoon was no exception.
Journeyman Dan Orlovsky made his third consecutive start filling in for Manning today, and the offense produced just 13 points under his watch.
Orlovsky did throw for 264 yards and a touchdown, but thanks to two key interceptions and a running game that devoured all of 56 total yards (seven of which Orlovsky contributed himself), none of it mattered at the end of the day.
The Colts offense only functions when it exploits a weakness in the defense its facing. They are not an in-your-face, grind-it-out kind of group and as cliché and vague as it may seem, they’re a team that really does take what the defense gives them.
In order for them to do it successfully, they need an exceptional quarterback at the helm, and with the exceptional quarterback they already have now approaching the end of his career, it only makes sense to draft a potential replacement when the opportunity presents itself.
That opportunity is here, that replacement is Luck and unless something radically changes in the world between now and April, that’s what every Colts fan can expect to take place when the much-anticipated 2012 Draft finally kicks off.
If Caldwell is going to be fired, you have to figure it’s going to take place within the next couple of days.
With Sunday’s loss, Caldwell’s record on the year dropped to a pitiful 2-14, and even though the third-year coach did survive the season and has received public support from both Vice Chairman Bill Polian and many of his players, no one in the Colts front office has officially ruled out the possibility of making a coaching change just yet.
Obviously the team’s problems extend beyond Caldwell, but it’s also obvious after this season that Caldwell himself has no idea how to solve them.
Despite their surprising success in Weeks 15 and 16, the Colts team that played today looked no better than the one that got blown out by the Texans on opening day, and that total lack of progress across the season will have to weigh heavily on Colts management when it comes time to evaluate their staff in the coming days.
Caldwell may get a pass on account of the monumental challenge he was up against this season fielding nothing but backup quarterbacks all year long, but there’s no way he can be too sure of himself at this point and the thought probably won’t be leaving his conscience anytime soon.
Happy New Year, Jim Caldwell.
You should know just how happy a year it’s really going to be within a week.
Manning doesn’t deserve an MVP award this season, as many have suggested, but he does deserve an apology from the critics who’ve complained about the excess of praise that’s been bestowed upon the 13-year veteran throughout his career.
After today’s loss capped off the worst season in Indianapolis since before Manning arrived, we now know full well that Peyton Manning is more than just a statistical standout and that all the analysis we’ve seen deifying the quarterback’s performances has officially been validated.
No one can understate the value of Peyton Manning ever again. Forget his playoff record (not that it was ever all that bad to begin with anyway). Disregard the talent around him. Ignore what Tom Brady or any other quarterbacks are doing with their own careers.
None of it matters anymore because none of it can belittle what Peyton has done for Indianapolis.
This guy deserved every MVP award he won and considering how much worse off his team was without him this season, he probably deserved to win more of them looking back.
We were right to glorify Peyton Manning the way we did all these years and this season we all saw exactly why.
He’s a superstar. A game-changer. A difference-making, one-man wrecking crew of excellence.
And after this season, no one can say any different.
As much as Sunday helped shape the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, it also helped put the 2011 squad back into perspective.
For a couple of weeks there, it actually looked like this team might have turned a corner.
The Colts are still an awful football team and after seeing them fail to show up today against a 4-11 Jaguars group who produced fewer yards this season than any team in the league, the strangest part of this embarrassing 2011 Colts season now is that they ever won a game at all.
The win over the Texans wasn’t too surprising given the absence of two of Houston’s biggest playmakers, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, but the win against Tennessee makes almost no sense looking back.
The Titans finished 9-7 this year and were still in the playoff race until just a few hours ago. They beat two other playoff teams earlier this season and stomped the Colts 27-10 in their first meeting this year.
They’re a familiar opponent, which certainly helped, but that still doesn’t quite explain how the same team that put up 26 points against the No. 3 ranked Baltimore defense in Week 2 mustered only 13 against this otherwise pathetic Colts defense in Week 15.
The 2011 Colts threatened to go down as the worst team in NFL history for three-and-a-half months.
How they not only avoided that distinction but won two games in a row will always remain a mystery.
Jones-Drew is probably a pretty cheerful guy to be around during the holidays and it’s easy to understand why: He gets to play the Colts defense right around this time of year every single season, and he usually turns the meeting into his own personal highlight reel.
This year the Colts gave MJD one of their most generous Christmas presents yet, a rarely challenged 169-yard romp that helped the sixth-year human bowling ball claim his first league rushing title and finish the year with more rushing yards in a single season than any player in franchise history.
It was news when Jones-Drew first trounced the Colts as a rookie in 2006 (on Dec. 10th that year, he ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a lopsided 44-17 Jaguars victory), but now you just come to expect it.
MJD has played the Colts in December six times and thanks to today’s outburst, he now averages 105 yards per game during those contests.
Déjà vu doesn’t even capture the kind of consistency MJD has maintained when playing Indianapolis.
Amnesia is more like it, because the Colts keep playing this guy year after year, knowing exactly what they’re in store for every single time, and he still seems to catch them off guard more often than not.
The Colts have kept Jones-Drew in check a handful of times.
After what the running back did to them today, however, it’s clear they still don’t have him figured out quite yet, and it’s clear the headaches this one player has caused the franchise for so many years now won’t be easing anytime soon.
Then again, considering the bigger picture regarding today’s loss and what it means to the future of Indianapolis, MJD might have actually returned the favor this year and given the Colts a Christmas present of their own.
Let’s just call it even.