But while some players uttered the company line about correctible mistakes, about learning from the 31-24 opening loss, one voice stood out for me.
I’ve always appreciated the candor of Colts defensive end Cory Redding, a team leader who won’t hesitate to say how things are, even if it might raise eyebrows.
Sitting next to him, I wondered aloud what was going through the 12th-year pro’s mind.
“Something to build on, you know?” Redding said, as he sat on his chair and dressed. “But we’ll see ‘em again in the playoffs. We’ll see ‘em again. We’ll see ‘em again. That’s how I feel. We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a good team. It’s going to be a battle. That’s it.
When he initially said it, I asked if it was something I could write. Part of the job is developing a rapport with players, as best as I can knowing we’re not on the inside of that locker room except when it’s time to ask questions and take down their words.
My recorder wasn’t running. But I turned it on when Redding told me to use it.
The statement got my attention. It reminded me of what Peyton Manning had said after losing to the Colts 39-33 last October at Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning said he hoped the two teams would meet again in the playoffs.
That didn’t happen, because the Colts couldn’t get past New England to give Manning a rematch in the AFC title game.
Now here was Redding, obviously intense and a bit salty about the outcome, assuring there would be another game down the road. The Colts want that rematch. They want to set things straight when the stakes are the highest.
That’s what you want to hear from the Colts after a game like this one. We don’t want to be told that everything that happened, all those mistakes, are a simple matter of correcting them after watching film. That’s how coaches and players look at it, but the fact is the Broncos outplayed the Colts by a wide margin in the first half.
When the Colts started playing better, they got defensive stops and scored some points to turn a rout into an interesting conclusion.
“Did you guys find something out tonight?” I asked him.
“We’ve got heart,” Redding said. “We’ve got guys who fight, who care. We can go to battle with those guys any day. We’re going to get better and get ready for next week.”
I learned after chatting with a few other players that Redding’s opinion was shared. Other players didn’t want their names to be used. Maybe it’s because they aren’t established veterans like Redding. Or they don’t want to make headlines for what would be perceived as loud talk after a loss.
But Redding wasn’t saying it because he wanted a headline. He believes this. And his teammates do, too.
Another player confided in me that the same chatter was had on the field after the Colts failed to convert the fourth-and-6 pass on the final drive. He told Denver Broncos defensive linemen, “We’ll see you again.”
I hope it plays out that way. I sincerely do, because I also believe the Colts can play better, that they didn’t show anything but heart and character after getting knocked silly for a half. That does account for something, at least in my book.
If Manning put up a huge number on these guys and the Colts didn’t show any fight, we would all be down on this team a day later. I’m not. Granted, there were some coaching decisions I’m inclined to question. Chuck Pagano is a conservative defensive-minded coach, so when the Colts didn’t go for it on fourth-and-1 in Broncos territory on the game’s opening drive, I disagreed.
But I’m not going to go off on coaches — be it play calls or having to learn the hard way that you can’t cover tight end Julius Thomas with a single guy — because that’s part of the game. You live and learn, adjust, and correct mistakes if you’re a coach, too.
There were plenty of mistakes to go around in this game. But don’t lose sight of the fight this team showed. It was too late, indeed, but it meant something.
A national NFL writer I’ve respected for years came over to say farewell after he had concluded his story. He expressed the opinion that he could see the Colts in Arizona for the Super Bowl, that the Broncos were on the ropes late.
Perhaps that’s possible. And if so, that road likely includes the rematch Redding and his teammates want.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.