Falling in love with defense

 

"The Colts enter the playoffs

The 1987 Indianapolis Colts gave up fewer points than anyone else in the NFL — an undeniable credit for a claim as “best” defense in the league. And here, 20 years and a Bob Sanders later, Indy is once again aces.

Where the offense has lacked, an undersized and scrappy corps of fresh-faced defenders have responded — and the city has fallen in love with its defense. So it is, for a fifth straight time the Colts have won the AFC South, and Indianapolis will host football in January again.

 

The regular season

After last year’s insufferable roster of defensive Raggedy Andys was routinely beaten into a dizzy mess of embarrassment preceding the playoffs, the momentum from last January propelled the motley blue crew into unsuspected superiority by land and air.

Amidst all the hype of the Patriots’ “perfect” season and super-saturated scoreboard, Indy’s defensive success has been the unsung surprise of the NFL season. The usual Sunday morning pigskin pundits have of course acknowledged a marked improvement — but the defense is not only surviving; in fact, they are thriving. And there is no apparent reason for it since most of the starters from last season left for greener pastures of money and mediocrity. The answer, however, is much simpler than Sportscenter would have you believe: The Colts 2007 defense was born of Bob Sanders and necessity.

The only other time the Colts have bested the league in points allowed was in 2005 — Sanders’ rookie season — in which he played 14 games. Not even a season-ending injury to Dwight “Fighting Urukai” Freeney holds a candle to the impact of the pure devastation that Sanders unleashes in the Dome.

Peyton threw six interceptions in a single game against the Chargers this season (nearly surpassing his total for the entire year of 2006), but still the defense managed to stifle history’s most prolific running back and give Vinatieri a chip shot at a win. Despite all the accolades and franchise tags that are sloppily scattered around Peyton’s Pro-Bowl offense, the young and wholly affordable Colts’ D has bent but not broken — unlike the bodily faculties of our starting offense.

 

“PLAYOFFS?!”

In 2001, the Colts missed the playoffs — a fact that the city is constantly reminded of courtesy of Jim Mora’s infamously replayed nervous breakdown. Since then we have seen January football every year, won the division five times, beat the pants off the Bears in the Super Bowl and manhandled the Patriots three of the last four tries. It’s been a good millennium of NFL football for Hoosiers.

So how can we possibly top the sweaty climax of last season — after two decades of misery, of heartbreaking losses caused by hapless Jim Harbaugh Hail Marys, blizzards in Foxboro and “liquored-up-idiot-kickers,” finally culminating in a Super Bowl (at long last, a glorious Super Bowl!) — how can Indianapolis ever know true football fulfillment ever again?

The only way is for the Colts to overthrow the New England Jingoists in a bold coup d’état against media pretension.

Following last weekend’s bye, the Colts will play the Chargers before the most hyped match-up in franchise history on Jan. 20 in Foxboro. Here is why the Horses can beat Icarus Brady and his merry corps of patsies (no pun intended).

• The media has swollen the immortal stature of a talented team to unprecedented proportions in the 2007 Jingoists. If Warner Bros. creates a football-themed sequel to Space Jam, Bill Belicheat would be Mr. Swackhammer — the wormy, cold-hearted and deceptive coach of the MonSTARS.

• On Nov. 19, the Colts had them by the jugular — even without a huge chunk of their offensive line, Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez or Bob Sanders.

• Hubris. The juggernaut team in the NFL rarely prevails in the playoffs. The Jingoists should remember, their first Super Bowl win came against the Kurt Warner generation Rams team, which had been running up the score all season. Even the 2005 record-breaking Colts, who went 13-0 to start the season (and made their own run at perfection), toppled under their own weight. A patient and irreverent young team is poison to the colossus.

Epilogue

It has been an ugly and unhealthy season for Indy, and at times it has been wholly heartbreaking to watch this final season at the Dome be plagued with injuries and sloppy performances (however successful) by a freshly restructured team. This is not the shoot-’em-up Colts offense Indianapolis has come to love, and Peyton is having one of his worst statistical years in a half-decade. But as the defense sets the city on fire with their resilient aggression and bruising energy, Indy believes in a blue February.

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