Heading into the season, things appeared to be going along pretty well for the Indianapolis Colts.
After all, the Colts were coming off the franchise's first Super Bowl title since the 1970 season and the first since the team made the move from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
And, unlike most defending NFL champions, the Colts didn't have the focus of the national spotlight on them either for most of the year. Ever since the New England Patriots traded for wide receiver Randy Moss on the opening day of the 2007 NFL draft, Indianapolis slipped below the radar.
Add to the fact that New England went undefeated and the Colts didn't have to concern themselves about wearing a bulls-eye around. But that's not to say that Indianapolis had an easy time of it.
The Colts finished the year with a 13-3 record and a fifth straight AFC South title. Injuries, though, played havoc with the team's starting lineups. It started in training camp with defensive tackle Anthony McFarland going down with a season-ending knee injury.
The Colts' pass rush suffered without Dwight Freeney
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Strong side linebacker Rob Morris went down with a similar injury during the early stages of the regular season and wide receiver Marvin Harrison missed 11 games with a knee injury. Defensive end Dwight Freeney was lost for the year with a foot injury at mid-season.
Other key starters — such as defensive tackle Raheem Brock (knee), tackle Ryan Diem (knee), defensive end Robert Mathis (knees), linebackers Tyjuan Hagler (shoulder/neck) and Freddy Keiaho (elbow, concussion) and safety Antoine Bethea (knee) — lost considerable playing time due to injuries.
The good news was that the Colts were able to develop some long-term depth thanks to the play of several rookies and veteran backups, who were forced to play more minutes than perhaps was originally planned.
Indianapolis' only regular-season losses came to the aforementioned Patriots and San Diego on consecutive Sundays in early November and to Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
The Colts earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race and played the Chargers in a rematch in an AFC Divisional playoff game. Indianapolis ended the season with a 28-24 loss to San Diego.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Young, untested players were able to step in and provide valuable help when the Colts were hit hard by injuries during the season.
Three rookies — tackle Tony Ugoh, defensive tackle Ed Johnson and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez — earned starting roles. Other veteran backups like linebacker Rocky Boiman and running back RB Kenton Keith helped shore up depth at key positions.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne continued to get better, topping 100 catches and over 1,500 receiving yards. Safety Bob Sanders played a full season healthy, ironically, and was named as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The loss of Harrison for most of the regular season took a big chunk out of the Indianapolis offense this season. Wayne was able to take over a greater role with the Colts and Gonzalez played well as a rookie, although it took him some time to become acclimated.
Also, the loss of Freeney severely hampered the Indianapolis pass rush the second half of the regular season and in the playoffs. With Freeney out for the year, opposing offenses were able to concentrate on blocking Mathis. Backups Josh Thomas and Jeff Charleston played OK, but they just don't provide the speed and athleticism from the outside like Freeney and Mathis do on a regular basis.