The Blame Game

As the Colts prepare to launch into another pursuit of a playoff and championship season, Todd Taylor takes a quick look over his shoulder at past playoff disappointments in hopes that the Colts can exorcise their playoff demons in 2005.

It's hard to believe entering its seventh season with "The Triplets," the Colts' best playoff run since moving to Indianapolis came during the 1995 season with "Captain Comeback" Jim Harbaugh at the helm and Marshall Faulk on the shelf. A 9-7 wildcard team given no chance at success was able to overcome all odds, winning on the road against the previous AFC Champion San Diego Chargers and then in hostile Arrowhead Stadium, only to see their Super Bowl dreams slip through the hands of Aaron Bailey.

A decade later, the Colts still seek that '95 teams' playoff magic. The two seasons following that improbable campaign, the Colts fell off the radar and cleaned house. Bill Polian was brought in to rebuild the franchise in 1998, and rebuild he did.

Enter the present as Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James begin their seventh, and perhaps final season together. Since "The Triplets" were united, the Colts have made the playoffs in five of six seasons, earning three division crowns, but have yet to find the postseason chemistry to complete a playoff push to the Super Bowl.

Defense, a lack of home field advantage, poor coaching, the Bill Polian and the Peyton Manning jinx have all been common scapegoats for the Colts' playoff stumbles over the past few seasons.

All of these causes hold some weight, but the reason for the Colts' ultimate playoff failures that makes the most sense has been their lack of offensive production in these elimination games.

There I said it ---THEIR OFFENSE.

Before I justify this perhaps unpopular philosophy, let me outline the other reasons, which all have a strong case. Keep in mind; this reasoning will be based on the Colts' five playoff runs since 1999.

Defense and lack of home field advantage can be lumped together. Over the last two seasons the defense could easily be held accountable for the Colts' failure to earn home field advantage. However, we mustn't forget in 1995, the Colts' most legitimate Super Bowl run in Indianapolis, they didn't have home field advantage and had to play in three extremely hostile environments. In addition, when Indianapolis owned its highest playoff seed, number two in 1999, they failed to defeat their first opponent at home.

Regardless, the defense gave up an average of 25.4 points and 362.6 yards, never holding an opponent under 300 yards in these elimination contests. My reason for letting the defense off the hook as the primary reason for the Colts failures is its performances in Indianapolis' last two playoff elimination games. They kept the Colts in both of these contests against the Patriots despite 17 combined points and 8 turnovers by the offense.

Many have pointed to the Colts' coaching during this period as their reason for failure. Jim Mora coached the Colts in their ‘99 and ‘00 playoff losses and is well noted for his 0-6 career playoff record.

Similarly, Tony Dungy came to the Colts with a 2-4 postseason record and a reputation for failing to get his team over the hump in Tampa Bay.  The season following his departure, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, further justifying his critics.  Blaming the coach seems like a reach though. After all, the players play, right?

Nobody will deny the masterful job Bill Polian did in bringing the Colts franchise not only back to respectability, but also to the status of an NFL powerhouse.  He took an offense with virtually nothing and created arguably the best unit in NFL history.

The problem many critics have with Polian is his refusal to be a player in free agency or invest in the Colts defense.  However, it is hard to point the finger at the man who drafted Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney.

The next possible reason for the Colts playoff failures comes with a warning; brace yourselves Peyton Manning fans.  Yes, he was 0-3 against Florida and lost in the Orange Bowl during his college career.  And obviously he has yet to lead the Colts to ultimate glory in five tries.  I disregard the Manning jinx due to the fact football is a team sport, and one guy can't take all the blame.  Despite this opinion, Manning's numbers in the Colts' five playoff elimination games since his arrival have been dismal at best:

:       100-195  1,033 yards  2 TD  7 INT

Average per Game:   51% completion rate,  206 yards  0.4 TD  1.4 INT

Note:  0 games with multiple touchdown passes and 0 games with over 240 yards passing

This leads us into the most logical reason the Colts have failed to advance to the Super Bowl in their last five attempts:  THE OFFENSE.  Unfortunately the evidence is substantial.  The Colts' offense has failed to score more than 17 points in any of these contests.  The passing game never exceeded 240 yards, the running game never broke 100.

More disturbing is the performances are getting worse.  Over the last three playoff elimination games the Colts have averaged 6.6 points and 252.6 yards, hardly reminiscent of their regular season performances.  The Colts have also compiled eight turnovers in its last two playoff losses in New England -- an insurmountable statistic.

No matter whom you blame for their prior failures, most will agree that the time is now for the Colts to achieve greatness.  Is the defense good enough?  Can they earn home field? Will Manning, Dungy and Polian silence their critics?  Will the offense finally perform throughout the postseason as they consistently have during the regular season?  Chances are, unless all the questions are answered with a "yes" at season's end, they will all be asked again this time next year.


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