As the clock was winding down during Sunday's AFC Championship Game—another Peyton Manning masterpiece—I began to wonder how a well-oiled machine like the Indianapolis Colts have been so utterly dominant over the past few seasons without a feature running back.
But then I caught my tongue.
The 2009-2010 Colts are a juggernaut built on shrewd drafting and free agent pickups by President Bill Polian, and led by quarterback/line-of-scrimmage playcaller extraordinaire/TV personality Peyton Manning.
And it seems like everybody on this year's Colts squad comes with an uplifting backstory attached to them.
There's Manning, the MVP, currently the game's smartest and most prolific quarterback (I can already hear the groans from the Brady-backers, who have apparently blocked the Pats-Ravens debacle from their memory). He breaks down NFL defenses quicker than it takes most people to figure out when to change lanes on the highway.
In the second half of Sunday afternoon's reaming of the Jets, he made Rex Ryan's vaunted defense look like Pop Warner scrubs. He turned no-names (see: Collie, Austin and Garcon, Pierre) into household names, probably earning them both hefty paydays down the road, and made everyone in Indianapolis forget about Anthony Gonzalez and that Harrison guy.
There's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who combined for 23 sacks and 61 tackles, finally becoming a feared one-two punch against both the run and the pass.
There's Garcon (47 catches, 765 yards, four TDs), a 2008 sixth-round pick out of Mount Union, and Collie (60 catches, 676 yards, 10 TDs), an '09 fourth-round selection from BYU, who filled in flawlessly for the injured Gonzalez and departed Marvin Harrison. Garcon earned the ire of many defensive coordinators, who early in the year kept asking, "who IS that French guy?" Even ESPN's Chris Berman was constantly overheard praising Austin "woof woof" Collie for his huge third-down conversions.
There's rookie running back Donald Brown, a 5'10'', hard-nosed, Jersey-born bulldog, snatched up late in the first round out of small-time UConn. All he did was rush for 281 yards on 78 carries with three TDs (and catch 11 balls for 169 yards) in a backup role, giving Colts fans a reason to believe in their running back for the future.
Finally, there's Addai. And really, there's not much of a storyline attached to the fourth-year former LSU standout.
He broke onto the scene in 2006 like gangbusters, breaking the 1,000-yard barrier his rookie season, scoring seven TDs, and had Colts fans everywhere asking "Edgerrin Who?"
After an equally successful 2007 campaign, Addai, a first-round lock in most fantasy drafts, came into 2008 with high expectations, and a true breakout campaign seemed inevitable.
Unfortunately, he became the "Matt Forte" of 2008. Essentially, a bust.
After a slow start to the season, Addai revealed he had been playing with a partially torn hamstring, and was sidelined for two weeks. After putting up lackluster numbers in the following weeks, Addai was once again sidelined for the final three games of 2008 with a shoulder injury.
Addai saw his rushing totals cut in half (1,072 in '07 to 544 in '08) and his YPC drop (from 4.8 in '06 to 4.1 in '07, then drastically to 3.5 in '08), prompting Polian to draft Brown, and suddenly many Colts fans were left wondering if Addai had worn out his welcome in Indy. Many times last season it looked as if Addai was running in quicksand, dancing around like Laurence Maroney, not showing the burst and cutback ability that he needed to avoid tackles.
Maybe the pressure of filling the hefty shoes left by James and Marshall Faulk finally caught up with him, or maybe playing through the hamstring injury sapped his confidence to make strong cuts; maybe it was simply easier to let Manning run the show. In any case, Addai needed a fresh start.
So in 2009, Addai stepped into the rejuvenation machine.
The addition of Brown in the backfield became a blessing for Addai, spelling him when necessary and keeping his legs fresh throughout the course of the game. Manning's brilliance in the shotgun no-huddle opened up holes for Addai that many running backs can only dream of. He ran for a modest 828 yards but hit pay-dirt 10 times this season, and he has Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore to thank for that.
Gift baskets from the Addai residence forthcoming.
It became all too apparent on Sunday, as Manning meticulously sucker-punched the Jets with consistently pass-heavy drives, how easy it was for Addai to blast through seams left wide open by a defense that was constantly thinking pass. And what's more, there was a noticeable, youthful burst in Addai's step every time he touched the ball.
The burst was back.
In 2009, while other Colts got the glory and the fairy-tale storylines, Addai did his work behind the scenes, scoring touchdowns and reclaiming a hold on his starting job. Sounds like a fairy-tale ending to me.