Indianapolis Colts Avoid Winless Season, Won’t Play Peyton Manning

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The Indianapolis Colts won’t go 0-16. We know that much.

The Colts’ 27-13 victory against division rival Tennessee on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium — Indy’s first win of the 2011 season — prevented the franchise from going down in NFL history with the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only two teams to ever finish a season without a win.

But beyond the relief of finally breaking through for a win, the Colts still face some questions as they prepare to close out the final two weeks of 2011. Vice Chairman Bill Polian announced after the game that quarterback Peyton Manning would not appear in either of Indy’s last two games against Houston and Jacksonville. Also — believe it or not — there’s a legitimate race in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes again.

The Colts clearly wanted this win Sunday, and they certainly deserved it.

Titans running back Chris Johnson, who had seemed to be returning to form after a holdout-induced slow start, was held to just 55 yards on 15 touches. Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer went everywhere Johnson went; Angerer finished with 12 total tackles, a forced fumble and an interception of Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck that prevented a late score to bring Tennessee within a possession.

Jake Locker relieved Hasselbeck, who threw two picks, and led the Titans on that scoring drive. Afterward, however, Colts running back Donald Brown ran a brilliant reverse that turned into an 80-yard touchdown run. That ultimately was the dagger. Brown finished with 161 yards on 16 carries.

The Colts’ defense deserves the biggest share of credit for this one. On top of negating Chris Johnson and Angerer’s interception of Hasselbeck, the other pick was returned for a touchdown by Jacob Lacey to give the Colts a 17-6 lead.

While spirits were bright following the much-anticipated win, much speculation swirled during the game about Manning’s availability amid reports the four-time MVP has been throwing in pads and could, in fact, play in Thursday’s home finale against the Texans.

Polian addressed the media following the game, reiterating that Manning would not play in any games in 2011 and that his rehabilitation has not progressed quickly enough for that to be possible. He added, though, that Manning could participate in limited practice in these last two weeks.

It will be interesting to see if Manning does practice. If he doesn’t, the Colts might not get to see him do so until after the deadline by which they have to pay him a $28 million roster bonus to keep him in 2012. What can you do if you don’t have another elite quarterback or any idea where Manning’s health is?

Further complicating the situation is the fact the Colts have competition for the top pick in next April’s NFL Draft once again. The Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams each have two losses. It’s not entirely inconceivable for Indy to win its final two games, and the Rams are very likely to lose out with contests against Pittsburgh and San Francisco. ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky put together a detailed explanation of tiebreak scenarios for the No. 1 pick. The gist of Kuharsky’s post is that if in the event the Colts, Rams and Vikings all end up with the same records, the Rams would fall out on strength of schedule and whoever has the weaker slate between Indy and Minnesota would get the pick. In other words, Colts fans should want all the Vikings’ opponents to win their final two games.

Who says a 1-13 season can’t be intriguing?

 

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