Sunday, January 4, 2009

One Turd Deserves Another

This is a painful post to write, as it's only a day after the Indianapolis Colts lost yet again in the first round of the playoffs (if you don't already know, this time the culprit was San Diego, beating the Colts 23-17 in overtime). Last night's loss was the third first round playoff exit for the Colts in four years, with the only exception being the Super Bowl title after the 2006 season. Most of us at Lom Henn.com are Colts fans. Obviously, it goes without saying that we are disappointed.

Perhaps worse than the playoff loss will be the incessant talk and fall-out that will come in the next few weeks (okay, not worse. Nothing could be worse than that turd of a game). And who has already started the talk, even while the Colts' playoff corpse is still warm? You guessed it--Bob Kravitz.

Colts are underachievers

Another 12-victory season . . . and nothing.

Another Peyton Manning MVP season . . . and nothing.

Another Tony Dungy playoff appearance, his record 10th straight . . . and nothing.

Another glorious chance to advance to a Super Bowl, their second in three years, with the New England Patriots out of the way and the AFC unfettered by the existence of a dominant team . . . and nothing.

Yeah, we get it--the Colts have nothing despite all of the things they accomplished this season. No Super Bowl. But let me let you in on a little secret, Bob--30 teams will also have "nothing" this season, since only two teams play in the Super Bowl.

I understand the Colts had greater expectations then other teams entering the season. But I don't agree with Kravitz that the only measuring stick of a successful season is reaching the Super Bowl.

Let's just say it how it is: The Colts are the ultimate paper tigers. And if you don't like the Atlanta Braves comparison -- multiple postseason appearances, one championship -- feel free to come up with your own.

As a fan of both the Atlanta Braves and of the Colts, I knew this comparison was coming, and I'm sure that Kravitz won't be the only one making it. But it still bothers me--for reasons I'll get to later. For now, though, let's see about this "Colts are the Braves of the NFL" thing:

The Colts have made the playoffs for 7 straight years--six division titles and one wild card berth. The Braves made the playoffs 14 straight years from 1991-2005 (there were no playoffs in 1994), winning 14 straight division titles. So right there, not quite the same thing.

The Colts have made it to the Super Bowl one time in that span, and won it. The Braves also have "only" one World Series championship during their run: 1995. That's probably the focus most people will take, including Kravitz.

But the Braves made it to the World Series both in 1991 and 1992, right at the beginning of their playoff run. They also made it back in 1996 and 1999, for a total of 5 World Series appearances and 1 title. Plus, the Braves lost in the National League Championship Series four times--in 1993, 1997, 1998, and 2001. That would be like the Colts making it to the AFC Championship Game six times in their seven-year playoff run, and going to three Super Bowls. So, if anything, the Colts don't measure up to that comparison.

But my point in analyzing the Colts/Braves comparison is not to verify its accuracy. My point is that it's a stupid comparison! For one, they're playing different sports with different playoff structures. There is no way to compare success in one sport vs. success in the other.

The other reason it's a stupid comparison is that again, it defines success as winning a championship, and nothing else. The Braves made 14 straight post-season appearances. I can think of plenty of baseball clubs who would kill for that level of success (for example, this team, this one, and this one, too). The same goes for the Colts--do you think the Oakland Raiders would take seven straight playoff appearances and "only" one Super Bowl win? How about the Cincinnati Bengals? Or the Detroit Lions? Perhaps we should look at a relatively long streak of getting to the playoffs as a meaningful accomplishment, instead of just having the only measure of success be a league championship.

In fairness, I know that Kravitz isn't the only one guilty of this line of thinking. But he is guilty of it, nonetheless.

But how can a franchise be so routinely dominant year after year, and yet be found so routinely lacking when the brightest lights are shining?

Who knows? Could it be that Peyton Manning really is worse in the playoffs? That he chokes? That he gets too nervous? That he catches a case of happy feet? Maybe--he seems to not play as well in the playoffs.

But I think the better answer to Kravitz's question as to why the Colts can be "dominant year after year" and still lose in the playoffs is that in the playoffs, the best team doesn't always win.

You think the best team always wins in the playoffs? The last #1 seed to win the Super Bowl was New England after the 2003 season. In the four years since, there have been two wild cards (Pittsburgh and the New York Giants), a #3 seed (the Colts) and a #2 seed (New England again). The last #1 seed prior to 2003 New England to win the Super Bowl was St. Louis in 1999. So in the past nine years, a #1 seed has won the Super Bowl twice.

Clearly, the best regular season teams don't always win championships. Why? Because the playoffs are the ultimate small-sample size test: one game. You've heard the cliche: on any given Sunday, any team can win. Even in the playoffs, anything can happen: A 10-6 team can beat a 16-0 juggernaut; The #6 seed who had to win its last 3 games to even get in the playoffs can beat the best team from the other conference; Even a quarterback from an upstart league can guarantee a Super Bowl victory and have his team follow through. None of these things was predicted, yet they happened.

Last year's Super Bowl was a classic, and a great win for the Giants over the Patriots. But does that mean the Giants were a better team than the Patriots last year? The Patriots were six games better than the Giants in the 2007 regular season, and even beat the Giants in the final game. So the Patriots had already proven they were better than the Giants, both head-to-head and over the long haul. Yet, when they met in the Super Bowl, for whatever reason, the Giants were better that day.

I think it's pretty clear that the regular season means nothing when it comes to the playoffs. Of course, a team has to do well enough in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, but otherwise, the regular season means nothing.

Back to the Colts. Yes, the Colts have seven straight playoff appearances and six straight 12-win seasons. And that guarantees absolutely nothing in the playoffs--case in point, the Colts' loss to an 8-8 team last night. Does it mean the Chargers are a better team than the Colts? Absolutely not--the 16-game regular season proved that.

However, that's not to say that I think the Colts deserved to beat San Diego Saturday night. The Chargers were clearly the better team in that game. They deserved to win.

Saturday night's 23-17 overtime loss to the short-handed San Diego Chargers was all too typical of the Colts' recent postseason history.

It happens year after year after frustrating and infuriating year. And it's always something. The weather in New England. The officiating in New England. The long layoff before Pittsburgh. The Dwight Freeney injury against San Diego.

It's always something.

Or, it's just a case of another team playing better that day.

(By the way, one legitimate factor in the Colts' playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 2005 was the suicide of Tony Dungy's son. I think Dungy and the team handled it as well as could be expected, but that had to be a distraction then. Interestingly, Kravitz omitted that.)

And yet teams like last year's Giants march on despite losing Jeremy Shockey, or the Chargers win this game without their top running back.

Fuck the heck? Is Kravitz comparing the Colts losing Dwight Freeney to an injury last year to the Giants losing Jeremy Shockey? Are you kidding me? Dwight Freeney, one of the best pass rushers in the game? That Dwight Freeney? Losing Jeremy Shockey is supposed to have the same impact? Shockey can play well at times, but he is, by almost all accounts, completely overrated as a tight end. Losing Freeney last year was a significant loss for the Colts, and it showed in the playoff loss to San Diego, as the Colts had absolutely no pass rush.

The fact that Kravitz compares the two injuries as if they have remotely the same impact is laughable.

If it happens once, it's an anomaly. But this happens time and time again. It's a trend, and it's something Jim Irsay and Bill Polian have got to address.

The only way to address this is by having the team play better. There is no magical formula or potion that can make it happen. I mean, how does one work on being better in the playoffs? What else can you do besides play better?

The nagging problem this year was that running game, the one Polian kept insisting was just fine, despite ample statistical evidence to the contrary.

It wasn't fine.

It was never fine.

Gotta give it to Kravitz here: he's right. The running game sucked all year. Can't argue with that.

However, this illustrates my biggest problem with this article, and with Kravitz. Where is the analysis of last night's game? There were plenty of things to examine about from the loss, including the fact that the Colts inability to run the ball almost directly cost them the game. Two series stand out: the first drive of the second half, when the Colts failed to convert on 4th down, and the 3rd and 2 play late in the game, when it was obvious the Colts believed so little in their ability to run the ball they tried a pass play that resulted in a sack.

Of course, nothing from Kravitz, because he a) can't do meaningful analysis and b) wants to be the first to declare the season a failure. Why couldn't this article wait until Monday morning's paper?

These were not just the 8-8 San Diego Chargers. These were the 8-8 Chargers without a reasonable facsimile of LaDainian Tomlinson, who didn't even play in the second half because of a serious groin injury. These were the 8-8 Chargers with Antonio Gates struggling with a high ankle sprain. And yet, there was Gates, maybe the toughest guy on the field, riding Antoine Bethea downfield for a monster first down on San Diego's game-winning drive in overtime.

Honestly, I wish Tomlinson had been healthy enough to play, because as good as he is, I think he was a better match up for the Colts than Darren Sproles. So I'm not sure that was as big of a setback for the Chargers as Kravitz does. And is it possible that the Antonio Gates ankle injury may have been a bit overstated? I'm not saying Gates didn't play with pain, but sometimes these reports get a little exaggerated. Gates certainly didn't look like he was hurting all that much, but that may just be a testament to the Chargers training staff and to Gates' toughness.

And the Chargers' 8-8 record may be a bit misleading. The Chargers were a last-second pass (vs. Carolina) and an Ed Hochuli blown call (could that be talked about any more than it has been, by the way?) away from being 10-6. This is not a typical 8-8 team.

Last year, the Chargers beat the Colts with backup quarterback Billy Volek, or as we came to call him, Billy Freaking Volek. This year, the Chargers beat the Colts with Mike Scifres, a punter, and a magical elf named Darren Sproles, who merely filled in for Tomlinson and produced 328 all-purpose yards.

No, it's Billy Fucking Volek. Don't refer to it if you're not going to do it correctly.

Kravitz acts like Sproles is someone the Chargers signed off the practice squad the day before the game, as opposed to the very capable backup that he is. As I mentioned earlier, Sproles was a match up problem for the Colts. But the 328 all-purpose yards stat is a bit misleading. Not to take away from what Sproles did, but even if LT had been completely healthy, Sproles still would have had 176 all-purpose yards, since he returned all of the punts and kickoffs.

And, oh yes, there was the San Diego defense, which held the Colts' underperforming offense in check, as is often the case in the playoffs. For all of Manning's greatness, for all the weapons the Colts have on that side of the football, the fact is, Manning is sub-.500 in the playoffs, along with his head coach. The running game was a cipher.

Kravitz is right about the offense. I don't think anyone would make the case that Manning & Co. played well. And yes, this has been a recurring theme for the Colts--the offense has rarely played a great game in the playoffs.

Marvin Harrison was invisible, as he usually is during the playoffs. Still think Harrison is coming back next season?

For fuck's sake, is now really the time for this speculation? Can it wait a few weeks, or at least a day or two? Marvin very well may not be back due to his salary cap impact, but can't this discussion wait?

And Marvin wasn't the only "invisible" receiver the Colts had Saturday night. Marvin had 3 catches for 20 yards--obviously not a great night (he did draw a pass interference call in the first half on a deep throw). Reggie Wayne only had 4 catches, though his totaled 129 yards. However, if you take away the 72-yard touchdown catch (which came when San Diego's defense wasn't ready), Reggie had 3 catches for 57 yards. Again, not a lot of production. Also, Kravitz-favorite Anthony Gonzalez had 6 catches, but none in the second half. Why doesn't Kravitz mention how Gonzalez was invisible after halftime?

Predictably, the Colts defense will get pounded this morning and for the rest of the week, and those three defensive penalties on the game-winning drive don't speak well of their discipline down the stretch, but they did force two San Diego turnovers in the end zone on potential game-tying or go-ahead drives.

They played well enough to win.

I agree. That's been the story here in Indy for awhile now--someone else usually gets blamed after a playoff loss despite the shortcomings of the offense. Message to Kravitz: you do know that the paper for which you work helps perpetuate that trend, right?

Bottom line is, when the Colts needed a third-and-short conversion, they couldn't get it. You can't win in the playoffs if you can't run the football.

It's pretty elemental stuff. The Colts couldn't run it. Couldn't run it all season, couldn't run it all night, couldn't run it when one conversion on third-and-2 with 2:30 left in regulation and San Diego out of timeouts could have put this game away.

See above on Kravitz's inability to provide meaningful analysis.

One and done.

Or, should we say, one and Dungy.

Yes, it's clearly all his fault. Not the players' fault at all.

If (when) Tony Dungy decides to retire sometime next week, will there be a great hue and cry for him to come back and give it another shot? As much as this town loves and reveres him and appreciates him for everything he's done on and off the field, isn't it time for a new face, a new voice, something different?

I don't know--maybe? I really don't know how coaching style plays into this. I suppose that you could make the case that Dungy's even-keeled style is better suited for the "long haul" (i.e. regular season) and less suited for the challenges and intensity of the playoffs. But I don't know--the Colts have won a Super Bowl under Dungy, right?

Again I ask, is the article that's supposed to reflect on the game that was just played the best time to ask these questions?

At this point, it's going to be tough selling fans on Jim Caldwell who, at least from a distance, promises to bring more of the same.

Ditto.

Overtime?

Where the fuck did that come from? Now all of a sudden Kravitz is talking about the game?

Of course it went overtime.

Because they're the Colts and the Chargers. Because they don't know how to play football games that don't end on the final drive, the final play, the final gasp. Because they've developed as good of a rivalry as you will ever see between two teams who aren't in the same division.

More meaningless, nothing analysis. Why didn't the last 3 Colts/Chargers games go to overtime then?

It took more than 60 minutes to decide, but the deserving team won.

True, sadly.

There's no nice way of saying what has to be said:

Paper tigers.

Folding again.

There's no nice way of saying what has to be said:

You suck.

At writing.

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