A word of warning: I'm about to say nice things about Bob Kravitz.
This is going on the front page, because I cannot remember a time when our buddy Bobby K did a better job summarizing a game or the state of the franchise.
Usually after a postseason loss, I'm calling Kravitz names and responding to snippit after snippit of his articles by pointing out the mistakes. Not today. Today, you'll fine nothing but praise from me for lines like this:
(Can I say a word about Peyton Manning? I thought he had a very strong Super Bowl, and this idea that he's "the biggest loser'' is about as dumb as tabloid journalism can get. We'll never know who did what on the interception -- to their credit, neither Manning nor Reggie Wayne threw the other guy under the bus -- but on most days, 31-of-45 for 333 yards on just eight possessions is enough to win.
It wasn't his fault Garcon dropped the pass to end one possession. Or that Wayne dropped another one that would have been a score. Or that coach Jim Caldwell had a brain-cramp and sent Matt Stover out to try a 51-yard field goal. Defense lost this game. Special teams lost this game. Period.)
Now, though, there is a heightened sense of urgency. Manning is on the quarter-pole of his incredible career and there are only so many chances left. He will be 34 years old next month. That means he's got roughly five or six seasons left to add championships to his legacy, and with the coming labor war, it's possible one of those years could be taken away.
Polian hates to hear about windows, but there is a window of opportunity here, and it's going to close before you know it.
In terms of personnel, they're right there. A couple of tweaks, a couple of additions. Find a kick- and punt-return guy.
Wow. The stuff Kravitz wrote today is so right on that I'm not even going to say anything backhanded.
It's a great piece, and everyone should read it.
Cold Hard Football Facts recently ranked the most crushing playoff turnovers of all time. They put Manning's pick in the Super at #2. That seems crazy high to me. Let's look at some of the turnovers that were much more devastating than that one. In fairness, CHFF only used conference championship games and Super Bowls, so I'll limit myself to those games. To create this list, I'm using data from Advanced NFL Stats. They have a lovely charting system that shows teams' win probabilities before and after each play. Unfortunately, the game charts only go back to 2000, but it will still give us a decade worth of data.
Please note: this isn't opinion based. I'm just using the Cold Hard Facts.
1. Warner's pick in 2008 Super Bowl: WP before 61% WP after 16%. Difference 46%
#1 on CHFF's list was unquestionably the biggest turnover of the decade, and possibly ever.
2. Favre pick in 09 verses the Saints (NFC Championship): Before: 83% After: 42% Difference: 39%
This was an infinitely worse mistake than Manning's. The two shouldn't be compared. Favre's occurred with his team looking to win the game, and instantly they had less than a coin flip's chance of winning. This was one of the biggest turnovers ever.
3. Favre pick in 07 against the Giants (NFC Championship): Before: 55% After: 20% Difference: 35%
Another total back-breaker from Favre. It really seemed like the Pack had that game on a plate, but the pick destroyed all that. Again, the Pack was favored to win at the time the pick occurred.
4. (tie) McNabb's pick in 2001 verses the Rams (NFC Championship): Before: 33% After: 5% Difference: 28%
Hasselback's pick in the 2005 Super Bowl Before: 43% After: 15% Difference: 28%
Flacco verses the Steelers 08 (AFC Championship) Before: 31% After: 3% Difference: 28%
For some reason, these plays have been overlooked. All three were more damaging to their teams because both teams had more realistic chances of winning the game before the turnover than the Colts did. Neither of the first two ended the game, so perhaps that's why they aren't recalled. Flacco's pick six late in the fourth quarter last year was a crushing blow.
7. Warner's pick in 2001 Super Bowl Before: 67% After: 42% Difference: 25%
Another crushing pick six from Warner. The Rams had a good chance to win before, but were hurting afterwards. To me, turnovers that take a team from likely to win to likely to lose are the real back breakers
8. (tie) Rex Grossman's interception in the 2006 Super Bowl Before: 32% After: 9% Difference: 21%
Peyton Manning's pick six in 2009 Super Bowl Before: 22% After: 1%
I will say this about Manning's pick. It came at a point when his team had the second lowest odds of actually winning of any turnover on this list. However, it also completely destroyed his team's chances of winning, taking them down to 1%. To call it the 2nd most crushing turnover in playoff history is just plain wrong. It's barely in the top 10 for the decade. It certainly was not "more horrendous" than Favre's pick against the Saints. I don't think people realize how slim the Colts' chances were at that point. With only 3 minutes to play (and three timeouts), the Saints were going to have the ball last. They had scored on 5 of 6 possessions (the other ended on fourth down at the goal line). A score by the Colts only would have postponed the inevitable. Advanced NFL Stats has a great article about where the Super Bowl was REALLY lost.
10. Brady's pick 2006 AFC Championship Before: 17% After 0% Difference: 17%
A game ender, but certainly not worthy of inclusion on any list of worst turnovers. The Pats had very little chance to actually win the game. The pick was just cosmetic, much like Manning's.
Tom Brady holds the distinction of having two of the worst turnovers of the decade in games his team WON. Because the criteria CHFF established was 'crushing', I won't include them on the list. They do merit mentioning, however.
Brady's pick verses Panthers 2003 Super Bowl: Before: 92% After: 56% Difference: 36%
Brady's pick verses the 2007 Chargers (AFC Championship): Before: 75% After: 58% Difference: 17%
Brady's pick in the 2003 Super Bowl was so bad that it should have gone down as the third worst playoff turnover this decade. Instead it is utterly forgotten, and he inexplicably was given an MVP award for the game. It sure is nice to be Tom Brady.
Whitlock has a top 10 of all time QB list out. I don't want to split hairs with him; it's not the worst list ever, even if his criteria is all over the board. His comments about Manning are what they are. Thanks to Garrison for the link.
Personally, I don't think you can rank QBs, but rather you have a pool of guys who did the most ever at their position. I like the tier idea more than a straight list. Here's a rough idea of who would make my top tier. My criteria are:
1. Impact on the game. How was the game different because they played?
2. Fear they inspired
3. Huge numbers over a long period of time.
4. Unique skills
In no real order at all my all time top tier is:
Unitas-I love originals. The first one to do something new gets massive credit with me...even if others came along and did it better later. No one played QB like Unitas before Unitas. That earns him crazy cred with me. Inventing the two minute drill in the greatest game of all time? Seriously. Nothing can ever beat that.
Montana-I love the passer rating. It's my favorite stat. The reason is because it was the stat that Montana dominated. Four Super Bowls is nice, but Bradshaw won four, and he's nowhere near this list. Montana might have been a 'system' QB, but he was the first of his kind in Bill Walsh's West Coast offense. That makes him special in my book. Sure he had great talent, so what? Football is different because he played.
Elway-Yeah, I know he doesn't have the numbers, but he had a unique set of skills. My all time favorite non-Colts game was the Elway/Montana Monday Night shootout. Incredible game. When I was a kid, Elway was the man, and everyone knew it. The two late in his career championships directly lead to Favre coming back this year. Every old QB has hope for one more like John...
Marino-Same boat as Elway. I don't worry about the postseason nonsense. Marino was incredible. I saw him play a half dozen times live at least, and it was always a thrill.
Staubauch-Way underrated. In doing my "Old Manning" research, he was the player who fascinated me the most. His volume numbers were suppressed by a career in the Navy. No way I dock him for that! As a late bloomer, he gives hope to every 26 year old QB who hasn't figured it out yet.
Young-Again, I love me the passer rating and he's #1 all time (sorry Aaron Rodgers, I'm not counting you yet). He could run and throw. He was accurate and could hurl the deep ball. He was good right up to the very end of his career. He may have been best two way threat from the QB position ever. Because he could throw better than run, I love him.
Starr-If I have to acknowledge the Brady/Aikman/Bradshaw crowd, I'm going to put Starr on the board well before any of those guys. You want championships and post-season glory? He had his fill first.
Tarkenton-Another giant. Still ranks high on the all time lists in a lot of stats despite decades of retirement. He may not have one THE big one, but he won plenty of big games along the way.
Manning-He is altering the way football is played forever. To me that trumps everything else. I've never seen other coaches fear a player as much as they clearly fear him.
The next tier for me is littered with right place/right time guys: Brady, Aikman, Bradshaw types. Honestly, the two players most likely to break into my elite tier are Roethlisberger (if he stays healthy) and Brees (he lead the league in passer rating...of course I love him). I love Roethlisberger because as I've said many times, he does something Manning can't. He is the only guy in the league who possesses a skill Manning doesn't have...he's a freak to tackle. It'll get him killed before he's 30, but I love the way he plays. I suppose Brady would make the tier if he wins big with the Pats fielding a mediocre defense. Those three have the best shot.
Anyway, sorry for the generic 'fan' post with no real numbers or stats. It's not my finest work, but consider it a conversation starter for the weekend. Until the book is done, I'm saving my heavy research. Next week I'll get around to updating some of the preseason prediction pieces.
18to88 resident curmudgeon and Pats' fan JC asked the question: What are Manning's and Brady's stats in the fourth quarter of playoff games?
Here's where you come for such answers. The question he was getting at is which quarterback was more 'clutch'. To make the best assessment, I've looked at the fourth quarter production for each QB in the fourth quarter of games that were one score games. If the QB had the ball in the fourth quarter trailing by 8 points or less, it counts. If the other team had the ball trailing by 8 points or less, it counts. This method eliminates a handful of games for either QB when they played with big leads or big deficits, since those aren't exactly clutch situations.
For Manning, I considered the following games:
2003: @ KC, @ NE
2006: KC, @Bal, NE, Chi
2009: NYJ, NO
I did not include data from the 1999 or 2000 playoff games, though both would qualify. The reason is that I don't have play by play data for those games, and would be happy to add them in if anyone can find the numbers. I can tell you Manning threw no TDs and no INTs in those two games. This list does not count:
2002: @ NYJ (smallest deficit 34 points)
2003: Denver (smallest lead 38 points)
2004: Denver (smallest lead 18 points), @NE (smallest deficit 10 points)
2009: Baltimore (smallest lead 14 points)
Manning's teams finished 6-5 in the 11 games chosen. They were ahead at some point in the fourth quarter in 8 of 11 games. In total, Manning's kickers have missed three fourth quarter field goals in close games that Indianapolis eventually lost.
For Brady, I considered the following games:
2001: Oak, STL
2003: Tenn, IND, Car
2006: NYJ, @SD, @IND
2007: Jax, SD, NYG
The following games were omitted:
2001: @Pitt (he didn't play)
2004: IND (smallest lead 10 points), @ Pitt (smallest lead 11 points)
2005: Jax (smallest lead 18 points), @ Denver (smallest deficit 14 points)
2009: Bal (smallest deficit 13 points)
Brady's team was 10-2 in the 12 games. They led at some point in the fourth quarter in all 12 games.
Here's a chart:
One QB is 10-2. The other is 6-5. The numbers say that nothing is more pointless than attributing wins and losses to quarterbacks.
Note: JC officially protests that I've excluded games and he wants ALL the postseason game data included. I'll do so as an addendum to this post.
In the games I excluded from Manning originally (not counting the two I don't have data from), he was 15/23, 192, 1 TD, 2 INT.
In the games I excluded from Brady originally, he was 19/34, 244, 1 TD, INT. He was helped greatly by a 74 yard pass against the Broncos when trailing by 21 points.
The FULL fourth quarter playoff stats look like this (again, including blowout games). For Brady, this represents 17 games (he didn't play in the fourth quarter of one). It also represents 15 games for Manning who didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter against Denver in 2003, and I don't have 1999 and 2000 stats.
Seriously, Jim. What were you thinking?
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: So, Matt Stover's longest made field goal this year was 43 yards. Matt Stover's longest made field goal in 2008 was 47 yards. Matt Stover's longest made field goal in 2007 was 49 yards. Matt Stover is now 42 years old, so there's reason to suspect he wouldn't be able to make a 55-yard field goal as he did as a rookie in 1991. So, Jim Caldwell, why'd you send him out to try a 51-yard field goal?
The only thing I hate about modern sports is the media. I hate that 31 teams are made to feel like failures. I hate that for the second time in three years a quarterback was "the greatest of all time" right up until the last three minutes of the Super Bowl. Apparently that title is so fragile and worthless that one play makes all the difference. It's sort of the way Kobe Bryant was a choker after the 2008 finals, but now that he won again, he's back to being one of the all time greats. The media has the attention span of a gnat, which cheapens all their proclamations.
No matter what anyone out there says, I loved the 2009 Colts. They were a great team, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed by them.
I love that they posted 7 come from behind victories. The only time they didn't come back was against a team that was clearly better than the rest of the league. They played the Super Bowl about like they played every other game this year. The Saints were just too good to be felled by that kind of effort.
I love that Dwight Freeney played. I love that he got the only sack.
I loved beating the Pats and Jets, oh and the Jags. I loved beating the Jags.
I love that we got beat by things which were real problems. We got beat by conservative coaching, a lack of a kicker, a young wideout with drop problems, no return game, and injuries (which let's face it, are part of our identity now). If I go down, I don't want it to be for the thing I never saw coming (like 2003-2005). I want it to be because of the real flaws our team has had all year.
I loved that coaches are so scared of Manning that they do things that no one would DREAM of to try and stop him. Onside kicks in the third quarter? Going for it on fourth and two? They never did that for Montana. I've never seen them do that for anyone.
I love that even though Matt Stover missed a big field goal, no one holds him responsible. More was asked of him than he could be expected to deliver. It wasn't his fault. He'll be remembered fondly, and not as a goat. That's cool when you think about it.
I love that Manning and Wayne aren't talking about the pick six pass. Something happened on that play, and it will be years before we ever know what...if we ever find out.
I love that there is another season next year. I hate that there is a long boring off-season full of people talking nonsense, but I do love that football will be back eventually.
I love being the favorites already for next year.
I love Bill Polian in the draft. I hate the draft...but I love Polian doing the picking.
I love that as bad as the loss was on Sunday, it's only barely in the top five worst losses we've had. I'll put it up there because of the magnitude of the game, but the way we lost and who we lost to...I can live with that.
I love making the playoffs every year. The whole Atlanta Braves comparison bugs me, only because I don't understand what is wrong with that. The playoffs are a crap shoot. Making them is about skill. Winning them is about luck. The ball bounced the wrong way all night Sunday night. Hell, if the Colts cover the onside kick (which they did at first), they probably win that game. Pencil us in for the post season next year. I'll take my chances. It beats staying home in January. Everyone is searching for the some kind of meta-narrative to sum up the Colts this decade. There isn't one. There is no common thread. There is no big picture. The losses don't have much of anything in common other than the pain they've caused it. Let it go, world. Stuff just happens. We don't always get to know why. Inventing reasons is foolish.
I love that we won 16 games this season. We won 12 in our first three years in Indianapolis. In fact, you can cobble 5 seasons together (1984, 1986, 1991, 1997, 1998) and only get 14 wins combined out of them. This was a great year.
Most of all, I love that even though I'm 12,000 miles from home, I shared this season with my dad and my brother. I love that we talked every day about it. I love that I can share in a common experience with them. I love that it makes my life accessible to them and theirs to me. I love that all year all of us have commiserated around this virtual water cooler, and felt the highs and lows together. I love that.
I hate that it is over.
I love that it is coming back.
This title is so uncreative, that it circles all the way back to creative again. The uniformed reader might guess that this was a poorly named post about the movie Up in the Air. An informed reader would figure that it was a post about the uncertainty surrounding the offseason or the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.
The uninformed reader would be right. Ah, irony...
Seriously, I don't want to think about football right now. The offseason here at 18to88 is an eclectic mish-mash of topics. I wish we could talk more hoops, but that's just depressing. Instead, you'll get a heavy dose of football, but also baseball, auto racing, and general nonsense. Over the next few weeks, I'll be updating a lot of our preseason articles and working heavily on my book about Colts history. Fortunately, it wasn't a book about just the 2009 season, so I'm pretty confident that come August people will be excited about it. We are all still smarting from the loss on Sunday, but this season was a great one, a successful one, and the team is still stacked for next year, so there's a lot feel good about in the long run. I can promise you this, we'll talk about everything worth talking about, but we won't just talk for the sake of talking. I hate blather and that's all the offseason is.
None of that matters today, however. Today, I'm going to talk about the movie I saw. Jason Reitman's Up in the Air is a major player for many of the plumb cinema awards with good reason. Honestly, the first trailer I saw for the movie made it look like a mess, but the good buzz (and utter lack of anything else to see in Argentina right now) persuaded me otherwise. Plot wise, the movie is simple. It follows a stereotypical lone wolf/sharky businessman played by George Clooney. Actually, I should have just said it follows George Clooney playing George Clooney. He works for a company that does corporate downsizing. He's a professional 'fire-er', a sort of corporate hitman who kills careers instead of people. He live an isolated life of constant travel and likes it that way. Over the course of the movie, he encounters characters who force him to reevaluate his life and his values.
That's what happens in the movie, but the film itself is much more nuanced and subtle than my ham-handed attempt to summarize it. The movie begins and ends with Clooney. Reitman smartly uses the audience's familiarity with Clooney to establish a sense of identity for the character. You know immediately what kind of person the movie is about. Clooney does a masterful job, however, in drawing you in and making his portrayal of 'Ryan Bingham' human with real depth and a hidden kind of pain that lesser actors would have failed to draw out or simply over played all together. Bingham starts as an archetype, but Clooney makes him human. This is the key to the whole movie. Against the odds, you begin to feel for the guy, take an interest in him and long to see him grow up and mature and find happiness in life.
His interactions center around two woman. Alex, his love interest played by Vera Farmiga, is the feminine version of Bingham. The two engage in a love affair that is, ahem, narcissistic (to use a pg word) because each person is basically just making love with him and herself through the other person. Farmiga is wonderful in the role, and because the relationship ends in a predictable way, she deserves all the praise she has gotten because she makes you care about the character, even though you know who and what she is.
The second woman, Natalie Keener played by Ana Kendrick, is a young lady attempting to overhaul the way Bingham's already heartless business is run. Surprisingly, she is seeking to make it even more inhuman than it already is. She has to travel the country with Bingham, learning the ropes of firing people, so she can do it more cost effectively. Her personal crisis helps Bingham establish his humanity. He is a person who has chosen solitude not because he's a sociopath, but because of real pain in his life that the movie mercifully doesn't explore or name.
Up in the Air is funnier, more poignant, and better written than I expected. The dialogue was scintillating. The direction was pitch perfect, and the performances from the actors were stellar. The movie is sad and empty in a subtle kind of way that makes its point with gentleness and allows you to take in the existential crisis of Clooney's Bingham without leaving the theater ready to throw yourself off a bridge. Because of my affinity for The Big Lebowski, I always appreciate any movie when Sam Elliot shows up wearing an unusual costume and serves as a proxy for God.
I appreciated, respected, and enjoyed Up in the Air. It probably isn't the best picture of 2009 (I'm still going with Inglorious Bastards), but unlike Avatar, it certainly deserves to be in the conversation.
Well, that was a tough way to end the season. I doubt you'll find too many Colts' fans jumping off bridges. The Saints were a good team with a great coach and a great QB. The game could have easily swung the other way if a few balls had bounced differently, but in the end I think the end result is fitting. Getting off to an early lead was clearly the worst thing that could have happened to Coach Caldwell. It put him him 'conserve' mode, and he tried 'not to lose' the game. The key call that fans will forever hold against him was the terrible decision to kick a 51 yard field goal on fourth and 11. In the end, the Colts lost to an excellent Saints team that was among the best all season. There's no shame in that. 2009 was a great season for the Colts and a successful one. It didn't end the way we wanted, but this was still the second best team in Indianapolis history. I wish it could have ended differently, and but for a few bounces, maybe it would have. Still, life goes on and there is another season next year.
- Here's what the Colts have to do to improve in 2010:
1. Get a real kicker. It's hard to overly fault Polian for the Stover signing, and I certainly don't blame him for missing a kick I would never have let him attempt in the first place. Still, the Colts need a kicker who can convert a 50+ yard kick. You can't win in the NFL without one. Perhaps a made field goal and a decent kickoff change everything else that happened in that fourth quarter. Certainly a punt would have made it interesting. Vinateri can't be trusted to come back healthy. It's time for a kicker with some leg.
2. Get depth for the defensive ends. It's been a problem since 2007. Raheem Brock is a valued Colts, but he isn't a serviceable back up DE. Freeney clearly wasn't good to go in the second half. He missed the Saints whole first TD drive. Brees struggled early, as the Colts had good push. When the rush died, he took over. We didn't realize it at the time (though we all feared it), but when Freeney stepped on Sanchez's ankle, the Colts season went up in smoke. There isn't another Dwight Freeney just sitting out there, but something has to be done to help the team compensate.
3. Get new offensive tackles. Right, I realize that the Colts only gave up 10 or so sacks, but there was precious little room to run on the edges. Anyone watching tonight could see that Addai has moves to spare, but Colts runners are hit in the backfield too often. It didn't really cost the Colts in the Super Bowl, but better run blocking would go a long way. I thought Diem and CJ were both substandard in run blocking all year and should be replaced.
- Three more things should happen naturally:
1. The WR corps will improve. The young guys played better and better as the season went on, though Garcon never fully got over the dropsies, putting key third downs on the ground against both the Ravens and Saints. On the key third down in the fourth quarter, Collie tried to get a pass interference call instead of just going up to make the catch.
2. Caldwell has to coach more aggressively. If he didn't learn his lesson tonight, he never will. To his credit, he made the right call on a key fourth down, but screwed the end of half and fourth quarter scenarios.
3. The secondary will improve. Losing Sanders, Jackson, and Powers for long stretches hurt. All three healthy would probably have made a huge difference against the Saints. I expect the 2010 Colts' to have an even better defensive backfield.
- Some myths were pretty well shattered tonight:
1. Larry Coyer is a genius at bringing pressure. Nope. It's Freeney and Mathis. Anything else is still just caused by them. Take them away, and the Colts' D rots.
2. The special teams are better because of a new coach. They sucked tonight. They kind of have all year. They always will. This team can't return punts, kicks, or kick field goals. The key to good special teams is a good kicker and a punter. We have one and we need the other.
3. Jim Caldwell is a better coach than Tony Dungy. He had a great year. I still believe in him. He got worked tonight.
Finally, this is not innate of anything, but the NFL HAS to fix the possession to the ground rule on a catch. I never have ANY idea what is a catch any more. I was stunned they overturned the 2 pt conversion call of incomplete. Now, I feel the the play WAS a completed pass according to 'reality', but according to my understanding of the rule, I see no way that what Lance Moore did constituted possession. The problem is that the rule creates a weird judgement zone where the official has to determine how long a guy has possession for. It was designed to take that element OUT of the game, but I don't see that it's working. The rule should be two feet with possession=good catch. Forget this "maintain possession to the ground" crap. It doesn't work.
DRIVE ONE: 12 plays, FG
DRIVE TWO: 11 plays, TD
DRIVE THREE: 3 plays, punt. Garcon drops sure first down on third down.
DRIVE FOUR: 3 plays punt. Three stupid run plays to end the half.
DRIVE FIVE: 10 plays, TD
DRIVE SIX: 11 plays, missed FG
DRIVE SEVEN: 8 plays, INT
DRIVE EIGHT: 10 plays, turnover on downs
When you only get eight possessions in a game, you can't afford to piss one away with crappy runs at the end of the half. You also can't afford to let one end with lame unmakeable field goal attempt. I'm sure Manning will take all the blame for this game, but personally, I felt like the coaching, the wide receivers (Wayne and Garcon), and the lack of a second half pass rush did the Colts in more than one bad throw. The pick six sucked, but it should never have come to that. I guess I don't feel bad about it, because it felt like the game was already over. A TD there, and the Saints still get the ball last. There was no way they weren't going to score.
Sean Payton essentially stole two Indianapolis possessions. By going for it on fourth down at the end of the first half, he baited the Colts into wasting their prime two minute drive. He lost nothing and got the Colts to punt without Manning ever throwing. Then he stole another with the onsides kick. At a moment when Indy could easily have stretched the lead to 20 or 24-6, his coaching turned it into at 13-10 game. That's just brilliant.
Take notes Caldwell. Aggressive wins. Passive loses. It's the way it works in the modern NFL.