So here's what I have to say:
1. Demond and I both stopped worrying about losing the game after the first Chargers drive of the 2nd half. Why? Because we knew this team couldn't beat New England. There was just no pass rush. That was far and away the most unforgivable defensive game of the year. Sure there were the tipped pass picks (did someone coat our receivers hands with grease today?) and the Marvin Harrison Experiment basically cost us the season, but at the end of the day the utter and total inability of the defense to get pressure was the story. Didn't we just say this last week? The morons at Scouts Inc. wanted us to believe the run d was the problem. Nope. A total lack of pass pressure made a loss (today or next week totally inevitable).
2. I think Dallas Clark has played his last game with the Colts. He led the league in dropped passes. I haven't seen the tape of the 4th down play at the end of the game today, but from where we were, it looked pretty catchable.
3. The officiating was atrocious all game long. Most big calls favored the Colts, others went to the Chargers (how did they miss the big delay of game call in the first half??). Two Colts TDs had to be replay challenged. The first 55 minutes was called one way, the last 5 another. All of it left the crowd scratching its head. I'm not complaining mind you, we benefited from some of those calls. I'm just saying it was bad. Real bad.
4. I suppose some NE fans might want to crow about this game and blame Manning for some reason. I haven't read any articles yet, but there's a pattern I've seen in Colts playoff games. Something horrible goes wrong, so everyone blames Peyton. Now, maybe every throw today wasn't perfect, but I'd say 402 yards passing and three TDs is getting it done. If you give your defense the lead with 8 minutes left and say, Hey...keep Billy Volek out of the endzone, you expect to get rewarded with a win. On the final drive his last two passes were both dropped (Reggie Wayne got killed, so I forgive him). There are a lot of people to blame this loss on (Marlin Jackson, TJ Rushing, Marvin Harrison, Brock and Mathis), but seriously, I don't pin it on Manning, that's just stupid. The only real mistake he made was throwing at all to Kenton Keith. His hands are stone. That pick didn't really hurt though, they held SD and got the ball at the 50, driving in for a score anyway.
5. Things we can put to rest:
-Manning struggles against the 3-4. Sure there were 4 empty trips inside the 30, but neither pick, the fumble, or the turnover on downs had anything to do with the 3-4 defense. The O-line was great all day, especially Ugoh. There was some degree of protection problems on the goal line drive that ended badly, but that really had more to do with NO ONE GETTING OPEN.
-Specials teams would do in this team. They never played better. AV was booming it.
-This defense doesn't need Dwight Freeney. Someone tried to make that argument a few weeks ago. I hoped Mathis and Brock coming back would be enough. It wasn't. This season effectively ended with Freeney went down.
-The bye week hurt the Colts. Um, folks...that first drive was flawless. The Colts picked off Rivers on the first defensive possession. The game turned on Harrison's fumble. Now, you can argue that he should have played the last game, but I think they wanted him to. Seriously, when you dominate the first quarter (ala Tampa last week), you can't claim the bye week hurt you. Only an utter moron would say that the bye week affected this game. The D was bad due to a lack of pressure. The pass rushers would have played some if they could against Tennessee. So seriously, don't bore me with stupidness about bye weeks.
6. Final thought-Here's why the defense REALLY sucked today. Because the crowd was crazy. It caused penalties, timeouts and confusion. But they couldn't take advantage. Sometimes you look at another team's talent or game plan and say, geeze, that was brilliant they just beat us. Today wasn't one of those days. ANY QB of marginal quality can shred a cover-2 given enough time. I simply wouldn't have believed that defense to be capable of playing that poorly. About that I am indeed shocked.
Soooo, that's it. I think we'll still be doing a podcast this week. I'm going to sit down with the tape and check on a few plays that didn't get replayed at the dome, but all in all, this loss doesn't really hurt that bad, believe it or not. Without Freeney, this defense just wasn't good enough to win a Super Bowl. I'm utterly shocked by that, but it's undeniably true. The mistakes by the O would have gotten covered up (they would have kicked a FG on the goal line drive for instance), if the D had been even just a little bit better.
Oh well. At least I can root easily for both NFC teams.
UPDATE: I haven't watched the whole game but I do want to comment on a few plays:
- The pick at the end of the first half-yeah, the throw was high, but I wouldn't say that it was uncatchable. Reggie Wayne has to make that play
- The Kenton Keith play was clearly on him.
- One reader said he thought Peyton threw high more than normal. Not sure about that. He completed 68.5% of his passes, so it's not really worth complaining about.
- Man, did Ugoh get beat on the 4th and 5 play by the goal line. Somehow I missed that live, even though it was right in front of us.
- The Chargers D on that possession was great. Tremendous plays on 2nd and 3rd down.
- Dallas Clark has to catch that last ball. It hit him in the freaking palm of hand. Seriously, there's no excuse for that.
- Several people note that they knew we were screwed when Freeney went down. That's great and all, but I think that was a little hard to evaluate considering how many other guys were hurt. We suspected the lack of rush would kill us, but were hoping that getting other guys healthy would help. The funny thing is, after Freeney went down, the Colts sack rate was pretty constant, but their pressure rate fell through the floor.
Maybe I'll feel differently in a few days, but I'm still not sure this one will go in the toughest losses column. When you deserve to lose, it's ok. They should have won this game, but the Chargers D made some great plays at the end, and our D made exactly one all day, and it was in the first quarter. You shouldn't win games like that.
Demond Sanders: Yes, the defense was horrible. They let the crowd down. But I still go back to the turnovers. The Colts punted one time in the game and only ended up with 24 points. They were inside the Chargers' 35 yard line FOUR TIMES and scored ZERO POINTS. How many times will you win a game like that against a playoff team? The answer is zero times.
I feel bad because I really enjoyed this season, but I'm not going to dwell on this loss. I had a bad feeling about the game after the fumble. Marvin Harrison always goes to the ground immediately after a reception. It's one of the things we love about him. The one time he tries to make an extra move. . .