The tiny cogs of the well-oiled Indy victory machine
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 17, 2009
By Kerry J. Byrne
Motto: He's bigger than Indy's defensive linemen
The good news for Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard is that he played quite well Thursday night: he threw three touchdown passes and just as many completions as Peyton Manning (23).
The bad news is that playing well is not good enough against Indy.
Manning threw four touchdown passes – and needed just 30 attempts to throw all those scores and completions. Garrard attempted 40 passes.
It's just one statistical symbol of the near razor-sharp perfection of the well-oiled Indy machine. You can perform well against Indy and make a lot of big plays, but that's not good enough to beat the Colts. Opponents need to perform flawlessly and make every single big play.
Jacksonville fell short in both departments.
The result was a 35-31 Indy victory that, natch, went down much as we had expected (we anticipated a three-point Indy win), like most every game in this 2009 season.
The most compelling part of the Indy victory machine is not the performance of the high-powered pistons like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. The most compelling part of the Indy victory machine is the contributions of the tiny little cogs and sprockets without which the entire works would grind to a halt.
Thursday night gave us a perfect, nationally televised look at the Indy victory machine in action, along with the playmaking efficiency of all the tiny little working parts: and we do mean tiny – as in 177-pound DBs and 265-pound DTs, midgets in this day and age of supplement-fueled behemoths.
Here are five refuse-to-lose moments from the Colts, on a night when they were beatable, that symbolized what appears to be an insatiable will to win for a team that had nothing to play for (the Colts had already wrapped up homefield advantage in the playoffs). The most interesting part – hell, the most encouraging part for Colts fans – is the fact that the bulk of Indy's "refuse to lose" moments were produced by the little cogs and sprockets.
Indy's five refuse-to-lose moments:
Chad Simpson's 93-yard kick return – If you'd never heard of Simpson before Thursday, there's a good reason: he hadn't done much in his two-year career (30 carries, 6 catches) but handle kick-return duties. Even those duties he did without much fanfare. But midway through the second quarter, with the Jaguars holding a 10-7 lead, Simpson ripped off the first kick-return touchdown of his career. It wasn't the "winning" score, of course. But it gave Indy a four-point lead in what proved to be a four-point victory.
Indy's big third-down conversion - The Indy offense faced few third-and-long situations all night. One of them came at a critical juncture of the third quarter. The Jags held a 24-21 lead and had forced the Colts into 3rd and 8 from their own 22. Failure to convert would give Jacksonville the ball, probably in good field position, with a chance to take a big two-score lead.
Manning converted more easily than Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, flicking the ball to Reggie Wayne for a 21-yard gain. The drive ended just a few plays later, with a 27-yard TD pass to Dallas Clark that put Indy back on top.
Eric Foster sacks David Garrard – What kind of misguided team puts a miniature 265-pound tackle in the middle of its defense? Oh, that's right, the Bill Polian-built Colts. Foster has seen limited playing time in his two-year career. Hell, he's not even big enough to work for the Cold, Hard Football Facts tailgate team, let alone work in the middle of the trenches of an NFL defense.
Foster had produced just half a sack in those two seasons, back in Indy's 42-6 destruction of the Rams earlier this year. But the tiny cog of a tackle twice came up H-U-G-E against Jacksonville.
The Jags faced 3rd and 1 at the Indy 22 on the game's first drive. Instead of blowing Indy's undersized D-line off the ball with a run behind some of the league's best Offensive Hogs, the Jags dropped back to pass. Foster hit Garrard, forcing a fumble, which the Jags recovered. The result was a 10-yard loss and a Josh Scobee field goal instead of touchdown – a huge four-point swing in a four-point game.
Foster reared his tiny little head again on a critical play in the fourth quarter: The Colts had just taken their 35-31 lead when the Jags faced a 3rd & 13 at their own 39. Not an easy down, but certainly two-down territory for a team fighting desperately for its playoff life.
Garrard dropped back to pass and got dropped again by Foster. Fourth-and-20 is a lot tougher to convert than 4th-and-3. The Jags punted away their second-to-last drive of the game. Foster, who entered the game with just half a sack in his two-year career, picks up two in the same game, both critical contributions to victory.
Jacob Lacey's game-sealing INT – Lacey is another one of those young, speedy but woefully undersized sprockets of a defender (177 pounds) in the classic Bill Polian/Tony Dungy (and now Jim Caldwell) mold. The rookie has become a starter over the second half of the year and has made a handful of contributions, but none bigger than his pick of Garrard in the final seconds Thursday night.
Defenders hauling in the game-sealing pick in the fourth quarter has become a signature of Indy's run since the Super Bowl season of 2006 (Marlin Jackson, anyone?). This week it was the unheralded Lacey's turn to walk off the field with the game in his hands.
Peyton Manning's 65-yard TD pass to Reggie Wayne – With the cogs and sprockets pulling their fair share of the load, it was time for the high-powered pistons to crank out the victory.
The Jags and Colts combined for 59 points through the first three quarters, with Jackonsville holding a 31-28 lead, and the game had all the appearances of one of those "last-team-to-score-will-win" type of contests. Naturally, the Colts defense rose to the occasion, blanking the Jags in the final frame. Naturally, the Colts scored the only points of the fourth quarter. Naturally, it was spectacular: a 65-yard rainbow down the left sideline from Manning to Wayne with 5:23 to play in the game.
Naturally, the well-oiled Colts victory machine chugged along to another victory, with all the powerful pistons, and all the tiny cogs and sprockets, firing in perect 14-0 unison.
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