Sunday, December 11, 2005

Colts Haunted by Winless Preseason

Due to their 13-0 start, the Indianapolis Colts are the talk of the NFL. Sunday's 26-18 victory in Jacksonville put the team within three wins of a perfect regular season. However, the impressive streak cannot erase the huge disappointment lingering from the Colts' 0-5 preseason.

The misery began on August 6, when Indianapolis fell 27-21 to Atlanta in the Tokyo Dome. Billed as the "American Bowl," the result does not bode well if the Colts proceed to another "Bowl" versus an NFC opponent in February. The team will be especially doomed if the Super Bowl is moved from Detroit to any venue in Asia.

Next, the Colts lost 17-10 at home to Buffalo. That loss was understandable, given that the Bills had seven months to prepare after their previous game - a season-ending loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo's playoff hopes were dashed in that contest as it was caught looking ahead to the exhibition showdown at the RCA Dome. Ultimately the approach paid off as the Bills left Indy with a huge mid-August victory.

The Colts' hopes for redemption were dashed the following week as Chicago emerged with a 24-17 triumph. The defensive-minded Bears provided a blueprint to any teams hopeful of knocking off Indianapolis. First, you must limit Peyton Manning to 1 1/2 quarters of action before he leaves the game. With the passing attack thus curtailed, you should also eliminate the running game by constricting Edgerrin James to four carries. As a bonus in this contest, Chicago forced fumbles on two of those attempts. James's confidence level has not been the same since - he has scored fewer touchdowns than Shaun Alexander AND LaDainian Tomlinson.

A change of scenery did no good in the next game as Indianapolis dropped a 37-24 matchup in Denver. The Broncos, clearly understanding the great importance of preseason results, finished their exhibition slate 4-0. These teams could meet again in the AFC championship game. The August 27 result ensures that Denver is in the Colts' heads and would be a heavy favorite with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

The Colts finished up the preseason by getting routed 38-0 at Cincinnati. This humiliating score has cast a pall over the entire season. Some misguided observers have tried to claim that Indy's 45-37 victory over the Bengals on November 20 supersedes the earlier result. However, with a net deficit of 30 points between the two games, the Colts will worry if they belong on the same field if a third match arises in January. Chad Johnson might wind up dancing more than the old guy in the Six Flags commercials.

Fortunately, head coach Tony Dungy and his team rebounded to win the season opener in Baltimore. They have gamely marched on in victory ever since, attempting to distract fans from their enormous pre-Labor Day shame. Perhaps they will reach the coveted 16-0 mark. If so, they will have made the best of their embarrassing situation. However, they still would not measure up to the 1972 Dolphins. That Miami team won three preseason games.