Another Early Exit Frustrates Colts

One and done. For the sixth time in the last nine seasons (and the 11th time since 1970), the Colts' postseason ended before it had much of a chance to get off the ground. A 23-17 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers Saturday night in an AFC wild-card game sent a frustrated Colts team home a lot earlier than anybody ever expected.

Indianapolis has now lost four of their past five games to the Chargers and has been knocked out of the playoffs by San Diego in each of the last two seasons.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Gone by the wayside of the Colts' early playoff departure was a 12-4 regular-season record and a nine-game winning streak that propelled Indianapolis into the post-season for the seventh-consecutive year.

Indianapolis battled back from a sluggish 3-4 start to the season to win 12 or more games for the sixth straight season. Quarterback Peyton Manning didn't take part in training camp or the preseason due to a pair of medical procedures performed in mid-July to remove an infected bursa sac in his left knee.

Manning, however, ended the regular season on a roll and earned league Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his 11-year NFL career. He was one of four Colts players named to the Pro Bowl, along with wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Freeney returned this year from his own health problems, missing the second half of the 2007 season with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. He also had a strong finish to the 2008 season.

In addition to getting big production out of several veterans, including tight end Dallas Clark (setting single-season franchise records for total catches and receiving yards by a tight end), Indianapolis had backup players and rookies step up and make plays this year.

Safety Melvin Bullitt filled in for starter Bob Sanders and led the Colts in interceptions with four. Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, waived three times early in the season, had two big interceptions against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. Guard Mike Pollak, center Jamey Richard and undrafted free agent defensive tackle Eric Foster all earned starting jobs.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The running game struggled to get anything going this season. And Indianapolis' run defense was inconsistent.

Third down was a problem on both sides of the ball, especially in short-yardage situations on offense. Defensively, getting opposing teams off the field on third down was often problematic.

All three issues turned out to be key factors in the loss to San Diego.

Said coach Tony Dungy, "We have to improve (the running game). But that's what you will do (in the offseason). You look at what you did well, what you didn't do well. After our Super Bowl year, we said our run defense wasn't where it needed to be and how are you going to improve it. You look at the schemes, you look at the people and what you're doing. And try to find ways to improve that."

"And we've run the ball here for a number of years. Didn't run it that well this year. Didn't run it well enough. We'll try to look at the whole season and see what the causes are, see how we can improve it. But that is an area we're going to have to get better. I think the elements to get better are right here with us. We've got two really good backs. We've got some young offensive linemen. We've got a scheme that has produced very good running before. So we'll fine tune it and get it better."


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