Colts - Jets Notebook: No Longer Pursuing Perfection
Some Colts Players Return to the Lineup to Shake off the Rust, While Others Exit Early to Avoid Injury, Jeremiah Johnson's News and Notes From the Regular Season Finale
Peyton Manning Left the Game with a 15-10 Lead in the 3rd Quarter
It was a VERY good idea to keep Bullitt out of harms way today, considering how important he is to the defense. With Bob Sanders out, Bullitt has done a remarkable job in both run and pass coverage this season. Aaron Francisco got the bulk of the snaps in his place, but a healthy Melvin might be a speeding Bullitt in three weeks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
You've got to be Tripping Me: The assumption is a defender can take whatever means possible to bring down a ball carrier. Of course you can't grab a face-mask, and now you also can't pull down a runner by the back of the shoulder pads. What Jets linebacker Bart Scott now realizes, is you can't use your leg to tackle someone either.
With the Colts facing a crucial 4th and 1 from the NYJ 30-yard line midway through the first quarter, it appeared that rookie Donald Brown was stopped short of the first down marker. However, a late penalty flag was thrown and the replays confirmed that Scott brought Brown down with the leg whip. The Colts may not have executed to perfection on that fourth and short play, but the tripping penalty did lead to the first touchdown of the game.
The Kicking Quandry: While team officials will downplay the significance of these final two regular season games, it is a very important time for players who have missed action this season and are trying to knock the rust off. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden told me as much Monday in the locker room. "I think I don't need the break, I had my time off, this is my time to work. If those guys have been playing the whole 14 and they need the break then that's fine."
Another position to keep an eye on the next week would be kicker. Matt Stover filled in nicely for Adam Vinatieri the last nine games, but the Vinatieri returned to the lineup Sunday. It wasn't exactly smooth transition as Vinatieri's first extra point attempt was blocked by Bryan Thomas. Mr. Clutch trotted back on the field with 11:50 to play in the second quarter for a chip shot 22-yard attempt. Fans and media members payed a little closer attention to the kick than most short field goal attempts and Vinatieri easily kicked it through the uprights. I am curious though as to whether Stover will still be on the roster in three weeks when that spot could instead be used for defensive depth.
Brown is Back: I'm avoiding the "What can Brown do for you" headline as I've already used it a few times this season. I thought there was some concern about whether the rookie from UCONN would be able to return to the field when reports circulated about a month ago that Dominic Rhodes had been in town for a workout. Brown missed three games with a chest injury, but was plenty busy Sunday against the Jets. He carried the ball 15 times for 22 yards and an impressive third quarter touchdown. Brown also made a few key blocks while Peyton Manning was still in the game, a skill that often goes un-noticed when people look only at statistics.
The Colts running game is not exactly high-powered, but the 1-2 punch of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown is much better than one of just Joseph.
Don't Forget about Dwight: Last week against the Jaguars Pro Bowl Defensive Ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were on "a pitch count" Mathis was inactive Sunday against the Jets but apparently Freeney was feeling a little better. Dwight was very active Sunday (at least through the first three quarters) He logged two sacks, including one in the third quarter in Colts territory which led to a Jets punt.
This has been another spectacular season for Freeney, who should be named to his 5th Pro Bowl team later this week. That will tie him with Art Donovan for 2nd in Franchise history for Colts defensive linemen with five Pro Bowl appearances. Defensive End Gino Marchetti tops that list with 10 appearances.
Interesting Halftime Discussion: I think in a perfect world the Colts would have either put this game away by halftime or been trailing by two touchdowns making it easy to have Peyton Manning and a few other superstars take off their shoulder pads. The 9-3 score meant the outcome was still seriously in doubt. I'm guessing the "plan" was for the Colts defense to stop the Jets on their opening drive and have Peyton Manning lead the offense down the field for a touchdown (and two-point conversion) and a 14-point lead. At that point, fans might have been disappointed in seeing Curtis Painter trot onto the field, but he might've had a better chance to succeed. Brad Smith's 106-yard kickoff return was HUGE in the grand scheme of things.
Let the Debate Begin: I've touched on five topics in regards to the Colts - Jets game, but the only thing people really want to talk about is the benching of Peyton Manning (and other starters) in the third quarter. I found myself riveted in the press box as Peyton Manning had a couple of conversations with Jim Caldwell. I was watching as Curtis Painter traded his baseball cap for a helmet and took a snap from Jeff Saturday. For a game that meant nothing to the Colts, this was as good as it gets in terms of drama. I think this game and the Colts playoff games that follow could easily be made into one of those ESPN 30 for 30 Movies if the truth ever comes out in terms of what was said at halftime and what Peyton Manning "really" felt about being taken out of the game.
This was not exactly a great way for Curtis Painter to get his first NFL experience. The former Purdue QB was showered with boos upon entering the field in the third quarter. I think 99% of the fans booing were expressing anger towards Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian, not Curtis Painter. However, it probably isn't the confidence booster you'd like for a rookie to get prior to his first snap. In Painter's first drive, he did complete a nice pass to Hank Baskett who was stopped a few inches short of the first down. If Baskett gets ten yards instead of nine, or if Donald Brown converts on 3rd and 1, maybe we are writing a different story about how Painter led the Colts to a 15th regular season victory. Instead a Tom Santi missed block led to a sack and fumble and go-ahead touchdown.
The home fans continued to boo, and the Colts lost by 14 points.
Here are a few comments from the Colts Locker Room about the decision to take the foot off the gas pedal and the fans' reaction to the decision:
Reggie Wayne: "I don't like coming out. Once I'm suited up, I want to play. This wasn't a normal preseason feel. We had some opportunities where we could have opened the score up. We kind of left some plays out there. We still had it where we wanted it. I mean nobody wants to come out. Everybody wanted to win the game, the starters and the backups."
Jeff Saturday: "I know when I show up, I show up to win. That's what I get hired to do. That's what I did. We layed it out there, and we didn't win. I'm frustrated with it. We'll look at the film tomorrow and try to get better."
Antoine Bethea: "They (fans) are entitled to their own opinion, but as players you just got to go out there and play ball."
Kelvin Hayden "Guys felt like they wanted to go out there and compete. We are a competitive group. Guys want to get better. Guys want to compete. Guys want to win. It is what it is but that's why players play and coaches coach."