Each week on aerochug.com, Indy Football Report Editor John Oehser offers seven thoughts on all things Indianapolis Colts. Without further delay, the Magnificent Seven for the AFC Championship Game, in which the Colts (15-2) will play host to the New York Jets (11-7) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 3 p.m. . . .
7. The rest of the story. Just about anyone writing about the Indianapolis Colts in recent weeks has written it so much that it sort of becomes formulaic – how the Colts pulled starters QB Peyton Manning, WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark with just over five minutes remaining in a 29-15 loss to the Jets in December. Now that the Colts are playing the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, that event has become the touchstone for many storylines, and it has become vogue for those analyzing the matchup to point out that it was just a five-point Colts lead when those players left. That angle leaves out something that may be far more pertinent and that’s that the Colts held significant starters out of that game entirely because of injuries, starters such as DE Robert mathis, CB Jerraud Powers, WR Pierre Garcon and LT Charlie Johnson. Those players may not be quite as significant as the aforementioned trio, but Powers and Mathis are two of the top five players on the Colts’ defense this season, and with CB Darrelle Revis guarding Wayne on one side, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of Garcon’s absence. The field felt shorter in December than usual against the Jets and the absence of Garcon to stretch it was a big reason. And don’t forget: The Jets scored just one offensive touchdown in that game. Can they beat the Colts with that offensive output? We’ll see.
6. Finally. The 2009 season is an odd one for the Colts in one sense – that for the first time in a long time the Colts have done in the playoffs what they were expected to do in the playoffs. And that really hasn’t happened before during their current run of 12-victory seasons. Think of it: in 2003, they exceeded expectations as the No. 3 seed, upsetting the AFC’s No. 2 seed, the Kansas City Chiefs, to make the AFC Championship Game. In 2004, while they lost as the No. 3 seed to the second-seeded New England Patriots, they didn’t play as well in a 20-3 loss in Foxboro, Mass., in the divisional playoffs as many expected. In 2005, they lost as the No. 1 seed to sixth-seeded Pittsburgh, and the following season they surprised many by winning the Super Bowl as a third seed. They lost to the third-seeded Chargers as the No. 2 seed two years ago and lost as a 12-4 Wild Card team to an 8-8 Chargers team last season. But this season, they are exactly where they expected to be as the No. 1 seed – in the AFC Championship Game after a convincing, 20-3 victory over Baltimore last week. Who knew the Colts could follow the script?
5. Caldwell overlooked. Colts President Bill Polian had a good point this week when he wondered how Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell could be overlooked for the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award, and most of the others as well. Some have taken the tact that Caldwell simply took over a great situation and didn’t mess things up, but that’s not only a cynical view, it’s also incorrect. It’s easy when taking that tact to forget that at the end of last season – and entering this season – the Colts were in no way perceived nationally as a lock to contend for the Super Bowl, or even for the playoffs. This situation was not George Seifert taking over a San Francisco 49ers team in 1989 talking about repeating as Super Bowl champions. This was a situation in which Caldwell changed defensive and special teams coordinators (Larry Coyer for Ron Meeks and Ray Rychleski and for Russ Purnell), and also released an eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, Marvin Harrison. He also dealt in the offseason with the retirement and unretirement of Offensive Coordinator Tom Moore and Offensive Line coach Howard Mudd. Forgetting all of that, the voters perhaps overlooked the most important argument in favor of Caldwell, and that’s that he has yet to lose a meaningful game. Certainly many voted against Caldwell in a somewhat emotional response to the Colts removing starters against the Jets in December with a chance at an unbeaten season, but that decision reflected a team approach, not his inability or ability to coach or lead. It has been striking in recent weeks the respect Colts players have shown and expressed for Caldwell, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making the transition from a legendary coach such as Tony Dungy seem as smooth and productive at the same time. One thing is certain: If there is anyone who cares not a bit about Coach of the Year Awards, Caldwell’s the guy. He is absolutely, inarguably ego-less when it comes to individual notoriety and award. The only award he wants is a Super Bowl ring.
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