Todd Taylor, Managing Editor, ColtPower.com: I would say the way the Colts played during their 9-0 start and the way they played toward the end of the season, excluding the well-documented Jacksonville meltdown, wasn't all that different. During their first nine victories, the Colts had three very shaky home wins, including two 1-point squeekers over the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, who were 0-4 at the time. When the Colts lost three of four games, strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner had yet to be replaced by Rob Morris, who helped bolster the run defense. Bob Sanders was banged up badly and in-and-out of the lineup, and the Colts were playing without tight end Dallas Clark.
Also, two of those losses occurred on last-second field goals on the road – a 60-yarder from Rob Bironas of the Titans, who were one of the best teams in the NFL late in the season, and a 48-yarder from Kris Brown of the Texans.
JC: Peyton Manning is arguably the best quarterback in the league and on pace to be the greatest ever statistically, yet he still had the dark cloud of never having been to a Super Bowl hanging over his head until he beat New England in the AFC championship game. Do you feel he's changed since winning that game, and if so, how?
TT: Neither Peyton Manning nor anyone within the organization would ever say so, but yes, I do think he's changed after that win against the Patriots. Had the Colts lost that game, particularly if it went down the path it was headed early, Manning's criticism would have reached unparalleled levels. I believe even if Manning and the Colts falter in the Super Bowl, his ability to finally beat the Patriots when it mattered and the fashion in which he did it is a step in a positive direction for his legacy.
I think you will see a more relaxed Manning than you saw in the opening drives of the Patriots game. In the back of his mind, he knows that he dodged a fatal bullet in the AFC Championship, producing the greatest comeback ever in an NFL Championship game.
JC: Dwight Freeney gets most of the headlines on the Indianapolis defensive line, and rightly so, but Robert Mathis is a heckuva football player, too. How has he gone from a fifth-rounder out of tiny Alabama A&M to instant and sustained success at the highest level?
TT: When it comes to Bill Polian's draft philosophy, size doesn't matter. Polian's specialty is finding late-round gems – Jason David (4th), Cato June (6th), David Thornton (4th). Mathis was a guy who was never on many teams' radars due to his size – a 6-foot-2, 235-pound defensive end – and the fact he played for Division 1-AA Alabama A&M, which isn't exactly a recruiter's hot spot. Mathis's success is due to his tenacity on and off the field. He is a relentless worker and has made the most of every opportunity he has been presented with over the years. Additionally, he has added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame since his college days.
Aside from his pass rushing abilities, Mathis has always displayed great tackling ability and had a career-high 65 total tackles this season. Mathis is the perfect type of player to flourish in Tony Dungy's defensive system.
JC: Indy's ground game was supposed to take a huge hit once Edgerrin James took the money and ran to Arizona, but rookie Joseph Addai and veteran Dominic Rhodes have formed a solid combination. What is the difference between the two, and has the rushing attack changed in any way without James?
TT: Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes really aren't all that different. The formula for success has been due more to the two backs keeping each other fresh than due to differences between them. Rhodes is a little quicker and Addai is a little stronger, but the two have more similarities than differences. Both are excellent in pass protection, both can catch, both find holes well, and most importantly, both are supportive of each other.
The two combined for 1,721 rushing yards on the season. Edgerrin James ran for 1,506 yards for the Colts in 2005. James brought more veteran savvy and the Colts have used the stretch play less often, but it appears the Colts running game has actually improved – particularly in the playoffs – with the two-back system.
JC: The Colts traded for Anthony McFarland back in October to help repair the defensive tackle position, but whatever happened to Corey Simon? Indy paid him big money to leave Philadelphia before the 2005 season to be that immovable object in the middle, but he's been a ghost this year.
TT: The complete story on Corey Simon never slipped out despite digging by a number of national news sources. Simon hurt his knee just days into training camp during a drill. He had arthroscopic surgery prior to the Colts' final two preseason games, but hopes were high that he'd be ready for the season opener. That never happened, and what happened after that gets very cloudy.
A few weeks into the season, Tony Dungy said that Simon was having more tests run on the knee. In early October, the team put him on the non-football illness reserve list, ending his season. The only statement they would make about it was that the illness wasn't life-threatening but limited his ability to participate in football-related activities.
Rumors and reports have pointed to Simon possibly having polyarthritis, which was aggravating multiple joints, to possibly having more problems with his weight, making him unable to compete at a high level. The move relieved the Colts of paying his $2.5 million salary this year, but the NFLPA filed a grievance that will be ruled on during the offseason. It's a puzzling situation, but Simon and the Colts have done an incredible job of keeping a lid on this story.
Be on the lookout for Part III of this five-part series as John will answer five more of Todd's questions.