There are middle schoolers in Indianapolis who had never seen an Indianapolis Colts game without Peyton Manning under center. Sadly for them, they've gotten to see that this season and are not liking the results thus far. The Indianapolis Colts limp into Paul Brown Stadium Sunday at 0-5 without their future Hall of Fame quarterback. That's been a tough pill to swallow for fans and media in the Circle City who've grown accustomed to success under Manning.
When the Colts left the field dejected after last season's home playoff loss to the New York Jets, fans of the team were disappointed, but said, "Wait til next year." That's been a safe thing to say in Indianapolis. After all, the Colts had made the playoffs eight consecutive years. That's better than the Patriots, Steelers, or Packers of recent years. In fact, the Colts were looking to tie the Dallas Cowboys' record of nine consecutive years, which they attained under Tom Landry and Roger Staubach, this season. That's looking like a tall task now without Manning.
The Colts went out and signed veteran Kerry Collins to be their starter after Curtis Painter failed to impress in the preseason. In fact, Collins took his first snaps as a Colt in the final preseason game against Cincinnati. But after three weeks of offensive ineptitude and "concussion-like symptoms" Collins developed late in their week three game against Pittsburgh, Painter is back at quarterback.
Painter has played well enough for the Colts to have won their games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, but Manning's absence has also unmasked some other weaknesses. Dallas Clark, a perennial Pro-Bowl tight end with Manning, has struggled this season. The Colts' offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and found protecting the quarterback or sustaining a running game difficult. Injury has also plagued the Colts defense, which last week surrendered a 17 point lead to the Kansas City Chiefs.
That's left fans and media that follow the Colts in an unfamiliar and unwelcome position. It's been over a decade since the "Dolts" inhabited the Hoosier Dome, playing so poorly that it gained them high draft picks which they used to draft Manning and Dwight Freeney who has anchored the defense. Tony Dungy came in and guided them to a Super Bowl championship in 2006. Jim Caldwell took the team back there in 2009 where they lost to the New Orleans Saints. Unlike Bengals fans who have grown accustomed to Murphy's Law affecting their team over the past decade, Colts fans don't know what it's like to lose.
Now there's a dilemma for Colts fans: do they root for the team to salvage what they can of 2011, or do they hope the team completely flops and is in position to draft Andrew Luck, who could be Peyton Manning 2.0? A lot of that depends on Manning's health. He's still not been placed on injured reserve by the team, and though it's unlikely he'll play in 2011, fans and the team would love to know his future before the next draft. If Manning can return, then the team needs to address some of the holes they've discovered this year. If not, then a rebuilding plan needs to be put in place.
If that's the case, then Colts fans might want to get used to a few more seasons like this one.
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