If future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning had dressed and taken the field for the Colts, perhaps this would have been a closer contest. But he did not, and it looks as if he may not be able to at all in 2011.
Looking back now, it’s easy now to blame the Colts brass for taking Manning’s health and durability for granted.
Due to his third neck surgery this offseason, Manning’s streak of 227 consecutive starts was snapped last Sunday. This streak was the second-most all-time behind Brett Favre, who saw his streak of consecutive starts end last season.
Not being prepared for the unlikely chance that Manning would be unable to play due to injury is on the front office’s shoulders. How unprepared were they? For the last three years, Curtis Painter has been the backup in waiting for Indy.
Once Manning had a second surgery and became doubtful to begin the season, the Colts scrambled to sign Kerry Collins out of retirement rather than pass the torch to Painter.
Collins’ debut with Indianapolis was less than memorable, completing 16-of-31 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. Collins struggled some at times with timing and precision, but that’s understandable seeing as how he’s only been with the team since Aug. 25. Indianapolis clearly was not ready for the worst-case scenario.
Flashback to the 2008 season, in which another future Hall of Famer went down in Week 1. Tom Brady suffered an ACL tear against, Kansas City in the first quarter at home to begin the season and went on IR shortly thereafter.
Even without Brady for the rest of the season, Cassel still kept New England competitive. The Patriots finished 11-5, second in the AFC East and missed the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
Cassel would later go on and hit payday with the Chiefs, the team that caused Brady to be sidelined and gave him a chance to play in the first place.
Does one guy make a football team? Absolutely not. But when a franchise puts all of its eggs into one basket and that basket has three neck surgeries, then yes.
Since Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998, the tides turned in a very positive direction for Indy. Beginning with the 1999 season, Indianapolis has endured just one losing season.
In that time frame, the Colts have gone 138-55 (.715 winning percentage) averaging 11.4 wins per season. Eleven of the last 12 years, Indy has won 10 or more games, including two 14-win campaigns. Most importantly, don’t forget a Super Bowl XLI victory.
Collins is not Manning. Tom Brady is not Manning. Drew Brees is not Manning. It’s not as easy as plugging in Collins (or any quarterback for that matter) and just running the offense as if it were Manning under center.
The Colts did a poor job game planning for the Texans offensively. Historically under the Manning era, the Colts have passed the football significantly more often than they have run.
Why, though, with a new quarterback who is unfamiliar with the offense, do the Colts not run more with Joseph Addai until Collins is comfortable? The Colts ran only 16 times against Houston for 64 yards (4.0 yards per carry).
The AFC South is a very winnable division. Houston is coming off a horrendous 2010 season defensively. Tennessee is undergoing a change at quarterback with an ineffective franchise running back who held out for all of the preseason. And finally, there are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are far from contending anytime soon.
Even without Manning for the season, there’s no reason the Colts can’t make some tweaks here and there and adjust for life without their franchise QB.
If Collins can become comfortable with the support of a committed running game, and the defense plays well enough to keep Indy close, the Colts could still rack up eight or nine wins and possibly make some noise in the South.
To answer the question, can the Colts win in 2011 without Manning? Absolutely they can.
Will they admit the lack of preparation is their fault and plan accordingly for how to best use their remaining weapons while trying to scrap together a season? Time will tell.
Brett Lyons is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials.
Follow Brett Lyons on Twitter @BrettLyons670.