Admit it, we’re used to the Indianapolis Colts winning AFC South Division titles.
It’s happened so often, nine times in 13 years, it’s become one of many Colts expectations for the NFL season.
But the proverbial bar is set kind of high in Indy. Peyton Manning did that. This became a “Super Bowl or Bust” town. And after 11 wins in back-to-back seasons since head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson arrived in 2012, that expectation is still fixed in our minds as the Colts close in on possibly another 11-win season the next two weeks.
As I’ve reminded in past blogs, the Colts haven’t been playing well down the stretch but still win. That forces many of us following this 10-4 team, media and fans, to juggle the reality of expecting to see more encouraging outcomes versus accepting the reality that they still won, and that’s all that seemingly matters to some fans.
I’ve written before about how the Colts will need to play better come January to have a chance at New England or at Denver, should they get that second-round playoff opportunity. That opinion hasn’t changed after Sunday’s 17-10 victory over the Houston Texans, a game that shouldn’t have been as close as it was, considering the visitors were reduced by injury to relying on rookie quarterback Tom Savage.
As several Colts reminded afterward, the No. 1 goal was crossed off against the Texans (7-7), but there are others on the list.
That’s good to hear, but I’d rather see the team stop turning the ball over. I’ve beaten that point into the ground. Two more turnovers, including a pick-six, gave the Colts 12 in the last four games, all of them wins. The Colts have committed six of those turnovers in the first quarter, which spells trouble when going up against playoff teams. Everybody knows what a bad start typically means.
In thinking about what words to summon to offer something fresh, or at least different than before, a fan reached out to me via Twitter and then email. I read what he wrote, and he shared sentiments that others have expressed through social media and personally in recent weeks.
An out-of-town friend who visited the previous weekend asked, “So what’s wrong with the Colts?” That’s the perception in many places, that this team has won but hasn’t impressed. I basically summed up the team’s weaknesses and said it boils down to not being able to beat the Patriots or Broncos.
I repeated to him what I’ve written or said for weeks since the Patriots disaster on Nov. 16, that the Colts are “good, not great.” That’s not meant as a slight, it’s just that I don’t think this team ranks among the NFL’s elite. Better than the rest, sure. They keep proving that. But the four losses to Denver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New England stand out.
So back to the fan’s email. Jeff Radue shared his thoughts in “I’m a Spoiled Colts Fan.” That phrase has been thrown at him a lot lately because he hasn’t been warm and fuzzy over how the Colts have been playing.
He mentions the Manning Era, how the Colts struggled so many postseasons before finally knocking off New England in that memorable AFC title game in January of 2007 and then defeating Chicago in Super Bowl XLI a couple of weeks later in February.
Radue wrote: “It’s the same story; the Colts just can’t get past New England. I really used to hate New England and everything the Patriots stood for. I think it’s fair to say that my fandom has developed to the point where I can truly respect how they manage a team.”
That’s why he’s cranky. And I assured him he’s not alone. The Colts aren’t on the same level, be it an inability to bolster the offensive line, develop a run game or just win the most-important games against the teams they will have to defeat in the playoffs.
Radue mentions how there’s a window for this team before quarterback Andrew Luck gets his next contract, and it’s a huge payday, which limits how much money can be spent to bolster the roster around him. My wife says the same thing to me all the time: “This is going to be just like the Manning years, isn’t it?”
He repeats what the Colts’ goals have been since day one, building a team that can stop the run and run the ball. While the Colts have made progress in stopping the run, the Patriots’ 246 yards rushing can’t be forgotten. Not any time soon. And while Dan Herron has been a decent runner, Trent Richardson has continued to underachieve. You can tell the Colts aren’t overly confident in running the ball by the play calls. For the season, the Colts have attempted 582 passes compared to 375 runs.
Radue offered a lot of other thoughts that I agreed with, but we’ll jump to his summation, “So, am I a spoiled Colts fan? After pondering this for a moment and kind of grumbling to myself, I admit that I am.
“But what’s wrong with being a spoiled Colts fan? I love this team. I have loved this team for a long time and I want them to win. I want them to win every year and I want them to beat the piss out of every team they play, especially New England, and when they come up short, it’s not inappropriate to be critical.”
No, Jeff, it’s not. As he finished, “It’s the Super Bowl that matters.”
That’s what the Colts tell us from the first day they arrive at training camp at Anderson University to the day when the season ends. And I’ve received enough tweets and emails and personal comments to know many fans base their expectations on if this team can accomplish that ultimate goal.
Honestly, we didn’t set this bar so high. That’s what winning does. Even Colts owner Jim Irsay has said he wished the Colts would have won more than one Super Bowl during the Manning Era. They had their chances.
Sure, we’re all spoiled. Myself included, for having an opportunity to cover a good NFL football team but hoping they can somehow find the talent and chemistry to one day be great.
I would submit, with the help of Radue, that this day of greatness is not yet upon us. And deep down, looking at the way things have been going lately, most of you know it, too, spoiled or not.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.