Indianapolis has made the playoffs three of the last four years now, but have lost their last three postseason games. Much like their enigmatic regular seasons, the Colts just can't seem to rise to the occasion when it counts.
Before the season began, I believed that this was going to be the year when everything started to come together. A new, defensive minded coach in Tony Dungy who put together a defense in Tampa Bay that regularly knocked the snot out of opponents. Combine what was surely going to be an improved defense (hard to go anywhere but up when you give up the fourth largest amount of points in NFL history last year), with a great offense and the possibilities were tantalizing.
But somewhere along the offense and defenses' roles were reversed.
What was once an offense that was consistently solid if not impressive, started taking entire halves of games off. The defense that was embarrassing last year, kept the team in games for weeks in a row. What happened to that explosive offense the talking heads on CBS rant about? The numbers are still there, in fact, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison have had one of the most prolific seasons in league history.
Manning just capped off his fourth straight 4,000+ yard passing season, surpassing two "Dan's" of distinction, Dan Marino and Dan Fouts who had three straight.
Harrison quite possibly has put together the best season ever for a receiver. Posting an NFL record 143 catches this year, shattering Herman Moore's record of 123 set in 1995. He also had the fourth most receiving yards in one year with 1,722. Jerry Rice holds the record with 1,848 in 1995. He also added 11 touchdowns this year. But the Colts are averaging just 21.8 points a game this season, not exactly prolific. And Manning hasn't exactly stepped up in his two previous playoff appearances.
Manning's shortcomings in big games have been well-documented since his days at the University of Tennessee.
In playoff losses to Tennessee in 1999 and Miami in 2000, Manning has completed just 36-of-75 passes for 421 yards and one touchdown.
With the current core of players that Indianapolis possesses, the Colts are winless in the playoffs which should hopefully make them that much more hungry for a win this season. But the one thing that makes a team successful in the playoffs, consistency, is what has been lacking throughout the regular season.
The Colts will need a big effort from their running game to complement the Manning/Harrison combo versus the Jets on Saturday.
Edgerrin James has been banged up and inconsistent this year, scoring just two touchdowns while running for 989 yards. He's also had 15 or fewer carries in the last three games. James Mungro, while at times impressive, has to play a full game along with James for the Colts to regain the confidence the offense needs.
The defense will have its hands full with Jets' quarterback Chad Pennington who has thrown for nine touchdowns and 932 yards with no picks in the last four games for New York who is 3-1 in those games.
They will also have to contain Curtis Martin at running back.
Martin has averaged 106 yards per game over the last three and will likely be a huge factor if the weather turns nasty this weekend in New York. Colts fans will vividly remember the Dolphins' Lamar Smith gouging Indianapolis for over 200 yards and the winning touchdown in overtime in the last Colts' playoff game. So halting the run will be a key factor.
Indianapolis has been enigmatic all year long and I have doubts whether that will change on hostile New York soil. But as a fan I have to hope that the whole team might show up in the same game and not just in the second half. Santa has already been good to me this year, so perhaps I can hope that he will drop off a playoff victory for Indianapolis on Saturday.