The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the most consistent franchises in the NFL over the better part of the past decade. From 2002-2010, the team won 10 games or more nine straight times, won the AFC South seven times, and made the playoffs nine years in a row. They've played in three AFC Championships, appeared in two Super Bowls, and were crowned World Champions in 2006.
When we look back on this great era of football years from now, the Colts will certainly be put in the same class as teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Packers.
Unfortunately, this season has been a complete disaster for the Colts. Star quarterback and NFL Ambassador, Peyton Manning, has been out all year after having neck surgery in the off season. Without Manning, the Colts have started out the season 0-13 and have looked completely helpless in most of their games.
The Colts have also suffered other notable injuries to key players such as Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. However, with guys like Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne in that locker room, you would think the team would still have enough talent, heart and resiliency to at least tread water this season. However, they've been outscored by 198 in their 13 losses (15.2 points a game) and have looked nothing like the perennial Super Bowl contenders they were in recent years.
With over 54,000 yards and 399 touchdowns in his stellar career, there is no doubt that the Colts were going to miss Manning, but I didn't believe it would be this bad for them.
The Colts asked Kerry Collins to come out of retirement right before the season, but before long, back up Curtis Painter was under center. And now, there's some guy named Dan Orlovsky barking out the signals for the team.
It's so weird seeing the Colts with this kind of record. Years from now, when people are scanning this portion of the team's history, 2011 is going to stand out like a throbbing, infected, totally mutated sore thumb.
When I went back and looked at other historically great NFL teams, they never had years even approaching this.
When the Packers of the 60's were winning five NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls, they never came close to having so much as a losing season until Vince Lombardi's departure marked the end of their glory days.
The Oakland Raiders won three Super Bowls from 1976-1983, and the worst record they had in that stretch was 7-9 in 1981.
Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys had 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-1985.
The worst year that I could find by a team that won on a fairly consistent basis was by the 1990 Denver Broncos, who went 5-11 right smack-dab in the middle of the John Elway era.
Maybe it's a bit unfair to compare the Colts to those other teams with Indy missing such an important piece to its puzzle. Yes, injuries are always a hindrance, but a truly great team should be able to overcome even the most significant of injuries and, if not thrive, at least look somewhat respectable. The 1976 Steelers suffered many injuries--including losing Terry Bradshaw for a lengthy amount of time--but were still able to dominate as a team even with Mike Kruczek starting under center for six games.
Manning has often been compared to Dolphins' legendary quarterback Dan Marino. Even though Marino's Dolphins never accomplished as much as Manning's Colts, number 13 was still the most important part of his team during his storied career. In 1993, Marino suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in week five, and although Miami eventually lost their last five games, they were initially able to survive Marino's absence by winning five out of six games with Scott Mitchell and Steve Deberg under center.
People say things are different today. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and if a team loses its elite signal-caller, it's only going to be a shell of its former self.
Well, what about the New England Patriots? The Patriots have also been one of the best teams in the NFL over the past decade, winning eight division titles, four AFC Championships and three Super Bowls. In week one of the 2008 season, the Patriots lost Tom Brady for the year with a knee injury. Bill Belichick was forced to use Matt Cassel under center, and even though New England missed out on the playoffs, they still managed to post an 11-5 record.
Many people are acting as if the 2012 Colts will just pick up where the 2010 team left off--the Manningless 2011 nightmare is just an abberation--but don't be so sure of that. I know Peyton Manning makes a difference, but does he make THAT big of a difference?
You could sort of see the decline in the Colts last season, even with Manning leading the way. After going 14-2 and making an appearance in the Super Bowl the year before, they started out 6-6 and had to rally to win the AFC South with a 10-6 record, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Jets.
Is the Colts 2011 season just a Manningless hiccup, or does it mark the end of the team's great era?