Nearing panic time for Manning, Colts

Posted Dec. 06, 2010 @ 2:13 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

Just when it appeared things couldn't get any worse for the Colts, who were coming off a Sunday-night defeat at the hands of the Chargers in what was Indianapolis' first meaningful loss at Lucas Oil Stadium since Week Three of the 2007 season, they did. A re-energized Cowboys club beat the Colts in Week 13, extending Indy's losing streak to three games and increasing Peyton Manning's interception extravaganza to 11 during the skid.

Despite the aforementioned picks — four in total, including two pick-sixes and an interception in overtime that led to Dallas' game-winning field goal — and a defensive meltdown in which the Cowboys piled up 217 rushing yards, the Colts fought their way back from a 17-point deficit to force overtime. But Manning's final interception on the Colts' second possession of overtime put the Cowboys in business at the Colts' 36-yard line, and five consecutive running plays that netted 16 yards was all Dallas needed to set up David Buehler for the game-winning 38-yard field goal.

The PFW Spin

Not even the first blocked punt returned for a TD by the Colts in more than 21 years could stop the bleeding. It's easy to just point at Manning after a loss like this, and make no mistake, Manning's miscues, which led to 20 Cowboys points, were the biggest factor in defeat, but no one played well on Sunday. The lone exceptions were rookie WR Taj Smith, whose heroics on special teams nearly stole a victory for his club, and Reggie Wayne, who was targeted by Manning 20 times, catching 14 passes for 200 yards and a TD. Sadly, Colts fans will likely remember the ball Wayne couldn't secure on a 3rd-and-4 during the overtime period.

WR Pierre Garcon played like a man possessed in the first half. He moved the chains consistently while accounting for 67 total yards on eight receptions, including a 13-yard score that cut Dallas' lead to 17-7 halfway through the second quarter. He also had the Colts' longest run of the day on a reverse, but in typical Garcon fashion, he pulled a disappearing act after halftime, being held without a catch.

Manning threw for 365 yards and two TDs, but he continued to make bad decisions and did not look like himself. It's tough to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the reigning league MVP, but we maintain that he is trying to do too much, and while he won't say he is pressing, he has recently acknowledged that the only way the club can move the ball is through the air. The Colts were able to overcome no running game on the way to the Super Bowl a year ago, but the one dimension they do have on offense this season is not as dynamic as last and far more mistake-prone.

Reinforcements weren't the answer, either. The Colts welcomed back LB Gary Brackett, RB Mike Hart and CB Justin Tryon after the three players missed a combined 11 games with injuries. But the run defense was a sieve, with a clearly still hurting Brackett being more a part of the problem than the solution. The running game continued to be a punch line — Colts backs combined for 30 yards on 15 carries, and the offensive line was completely overmatched in what is becoming a disturbing trend. Also, the return game, while better with Tryon, was still nowhere near acceptable.

And if all of that weren't bad enough, the Colts' injury woes continued, as the team's top cornerback, Jerraud Powers, suffered a broken arm and Hart reinjured his ankle and did not return. The Colts' other starting cornerback, Kelvin Hayden (shoulder) couldn't play against the 'Boys, and we all know about the Colts' problems running the football. One step forward, two steps back. A lot like Manning's performances in the past three games.

The only good news for the Colts at this point is that they are trailing a Jaguars team that has folded down the stretch before, by only one game. In addition, they still have three divisional games left, including one in Nashville on Thursday night against a Titans team that appears to have given up and a home game against Jacksonville in Week 15.

It's hard to envision Manning continuing to struggle this way, but we have said that for two weeks now. So, are we to believe that this team is going to magically flip the switch if and when more guys get healthy and run the table? It seems more likely that the Colts will need to take a serious look in the mirror after missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.