What We Learned: Jets at Colts

All good things must eventually come to an end. What else did we learn in Week 16? Senior Writer Brad Keller gives his take on pulling the starters, Curtis Painter, Donald Brown's return and more inside.

Everyone was waiting for it: All season, we were wondering when Jim Caldwell would take one, definitive action that would officially declare that the 2009 Colts were his team and that he was in charge.  Sunday's decision to pull several key starters in the third quarter is about as definitive as it gets — and whether the order came from Bill Polian or not, it was still Caldwell's decision to ultimately make and carry out on the field.

It could be that he thought Curtis Painter was ready.  It could be that he trusted his defense.  One thing is for certain: He moved swiftly to preserve the three most irreplaceable players in the line-up in Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and Peyton Manning.  And Jeff Saturday is 3b.  If something had happened to any one of those players, then Caldwell would be answering a different set of questions.

The players were noticeably upset after the game, but they realize that Caldwell is the man in charge and he showed it with that sweeping decision on Sunday.  It's true that, as Jeff Saturday mentioned, their job is to win every game and they weren't given an opportunity to do that against the Jets in Week 16.

But, the ultimate goal of this team is to win a championship, which is what Caldwell was thinking about when he protected his most valuable assets on offense.

Whether it was a bad decision or not, Colts fans should be happy that their coach has the kind of testicular fortitude required to make such a decision, stick with it, and admit that it could have been a bad decision.  Caldwell has been open and candid with the media and the fans all season.  As much as the fans may be emotionally tied to it, this is his team and he made that abundantly clear on Sunday.

Curtis Painter is not ready for prime time: This was obvious to anyone with eyes, but it brings up a more important question: How much readier will he be next week?  In three weeks?

The backup quarterback spot has been a concern for Indianapolis throughout the Manning era, but with the loss of Jim Sorgi, it has become a potentially crippling weakness.  With next week and the playoff bye, the Colts have three weeks to get a suitable backup quarterback.  Painter can still take some snaps in Week 17 now that that game is officially meaningless, but he is not the short term answer at the position and neither is Shane Boyd.  Or Josh Betts.  Or Drew Willy.  Or Quinn Gray or Jacob Lorenzen. 

Jeff Garcia is available, he has proven that he can learn a system in a short period of time and be efficient and effective.  He has playoff experience and has played the "mercenary" role before for teams on the verge of a postseason berth, or teams that were already in the playoffs.

Garcia is no Manning, but he's the best option available and would likely sign for the veteran minimum if it meant a shot at a championship.

Lack of focus killed this team in this game as much as anything.  Clark and Wayne each dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter.  Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene took over the game in the second half.

Painter didn't allow Brad Smith to return a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown to open up the second half.  It wasn't Painter that had an extra point blocked.  When you hold the opposing quarterback to 106 yards on 19 attempts, you need to do a lot of things very wrong to lose by two touchdowns.

Throughout the game, there were mistakes, miscues, and mental errors that put New York in a position to win and gave the Colts little option but to lose.  Special teams have been better, but still an issue, all season — and for the past few seasons — but the one thing that has not been lacking for Indianapolis this season has been focus, concentration and, well, perfection for long periods of time on both sides of the ball.  They got away from that on Sunday and they need to find it back, even if the perfect season is now a thing of the past.

Donald Brown looked sluggish in his return.  It has been a long time since Brown saw any in-game action, so it is understandable that he would show some rust on Sunday.  But, he looked a little too rusty, a little too hesitant, and a little too afraid of contact.  Granted, this was a stout Jets run defense and they did have much more to play for than the Colts did, but he needs to look better, attack the hole, and do better than 15 carries for 22 yards.

Joseph Addai is locked in as the starter, but he will probably not see the field much against a putrid Buffalo run defense, so it will be up to Brown to announce that he is back with a big game.  If Brown does not have a strong showing against the Bills, that could be a very bad sign for Indianapolis for their postseason run, as having Addai and Dominic Rhodes fresh, healthy, and effective was a key to their title run following the 2006 season.


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