Oh, right. The Denver Broncos who are led by Peyton Manning.
You know the guy. He turned around a struggling Colts franchise in 1998. He made the name “Peyton” the most popular baby name in the state of Indiana. He made the building of Lucas Oil Stadium palatable to the taxpayers, and a no-brainer to build. He led the Colts to two Super Bowls and ran the most prolific offense over a 10 year stretch. 11 seasons of ten wins or more all with playoff appearances. The only player to ever win four MVPs (soon to be 5).
He turned scores of die hard basketball fans into football fanatics.
I grew up loving the Pacers and Reggie Miller. My earliest sports memories are of the Pacers playing the Knicks in the postseason and the Colts losing on Sundays. Although the 1995 AFC Championship game still annoys me. I didn’t really follow the Colts until the Manning era began.
He made this city care about sports in a way it hadn’t before. Not only that, but he put Indianapolis on the sporting world map. Indy can put on an amazing sporting event (Final Fours, Big Ten Championships, Super Bowls, the 500 every year) but he brought the attention to the city. This isn’t “Naptown” anymore and he helped change the perception.
It’s a shame that this week has turned into a war of words that are being twisted into something they’re not. Colts owner Jim Irsay made comments this week about video game stats versus championships, but he didn’t disparage Manning, despite what Denver coach John Fox thinks. What Irsay meant was that the team needs to be better and you can’t always rely on one player. What Manning did year after year was take a mediocre team (see 2011) and take them to the playoffs.
Remember, Colts fans never got to say goodbye to Manning. His injury kept him out for a season, the Colts went 2-14, and then Manning was cut. The last time fans saw him in uniform, he was walking off the field following a 17-16 loss to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs in January of 2011. He didn’t get the farewell that the Pacers gave to Miller. He wasn’t able to leave on his own terms. It could be a very emotional game for the fans, and for Manning.
Why was he cut? Mainly because there was no certainty that he’d ever be able to play football again. No one could predict that he’d come back and play at this high a level. Irsay didn’t want to see Manning get hit and have to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
I will cheer for Manning in every game he plays, until its against the Colts. He is going to go down as the greatest QB of all time, but when he comes to town I want multiple interceptions. There is a real possibility that this is merely a warm-up before the two meet again in the playoffs.
For now, we’ll take a look at what to watch for:
- Unshackle Luck. Come out throwing the ball early and often. And then when Denver isn’t expecting it, run the ball. No I-formations or fullback heavy sets. The Colts need to line up three-wide and pass the ball at the Broncos weakness: the secondary. How did Dallas almost beat them? They let Tony Romo fling the ball all over the field. If Romo can do that, then Andrew Luck can absolutely do it better.
- Be Flexible. Chuck Pagano seems more interested in winning his way then just winning. That is a losing strategy in the NFL. He has to be willing to throw out all the stops against Manning. Conservative calls won’t cut it Sunday night. Fourth-and-short around the opponents 40? Have to go for it. Hopefully Pagano learned something Monday night, if he didn’t, then he might not have what it takes to be a head coach.
- The Beating. Manning has always had a vindictive streak. He can flip a switch when he’s pissed off and torch a team. It happened to the Redskins after they messed up his neck. He did it to the Ravens after seeing Joe Flacco on his stadium. And he’s going to do it to the Colts too. He didn’t like being cut. He didn’t want to leave the Colts, but he had to. For all the tears at the press conference, Manning is likely still pissed off about leaving the franchise he built up. Manning doesn’t hold back against any opponent, but when he has extra fuel, watch out. The Colts defense isn’t really that good and the Broncos have an absurd amount of talent on offense.
- The Big Three. Manning isn’t the only former Colt to come home this weekend. Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James will be in the building. These three players were leaders of a very prolific offense. They are also some of the most popular Colts in franchise history. If bringing James and Harrison back into town isn’t an attempt to rattle Manning, I’m not sure what is.
Beating the undefeated Denver Broncos and Manning would be an unbelievable accomplishment for this team. No one besides Dallas has really come close to beating them. If Indy can pull off the upset, then we can resume that Super Bowl contenders talk.
That said, I don’t think that will happen. Pagano will try to play ball control and win his way, and the Colts will lose big. You can’t hope to keep the game close against this offense and win off a fourth quarter comeback. It won’t work against Manning.
Colts fall in Manning’s home coming, 35-21.
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