Colts willing to share the blame for latest loss

For the second time in three weeks, Peyton Manning nearly led
the Colts to a comeback win on the road.

For the second time in three weeks, he also failed.

Yes, Manning accepted full responsibility for the last-minute
interception that cost Indianapolis a shot to force overtime at New
England, or perhaps even win it at the end of regulation.

Teammates and coaches are more forgiving.

”That’s part of football,” linebacker Tyjuan Hagler said
Monday. ”We lost the game as a team, and, you know, he’s won a
million of them for us.”

The actual number is 137, but who’s counting?

Traditionally, Manning has been one of the NFL’s most efficient
quarterbacks when it matters most. A year ago, he had a league-best
rating of 116.0 in the final 15 minutes and rallied Indianapolis to
a club record seven fourth-quarter wins including the improbable
17-point comeback against New England.

On Sunday, he followed almost the exact same script.

Manning threw two TD passes to Blair White in the final eight
minutes to get the Colts within 31-28 and had them in position for
another score in the final minute.

Only this time instead of hooking up with Reggie Wayne for the
winning score, the Patriots’ pressure forced Manning to alter his
motion, making the throw short. James Sanders’ acrobatic catch
preserved New England’s 31-28 win.

In Indianapolis and around the nation, many castigated Manning
for the miscue.

But in this locker room, that’s not about to happen.

”Peyton knows we’re behind him 100 percent because we’ve seen
him time and time again win games for us,” cornerback Jerraud
Powers said. ”Look, people have their own opinions. But, at the
end of the day, we’re trying to win a game.”

And all the Colts really wanted was a chance.

”You’ve got to go for the win,” said kicker Adam Vinatieri,
who cringed as he watched the play on the big screen TV at Gillette
Stadium.

The good news is that Sunday’s loss hasn’t changed the Colts’
long-term perspective.

At 6-4 they’re still tied for the AFC South lead, still have
four of their last six games at home and still have only one team
with a winning record left on the schedule. That’s Jacksonville at
6-4. If they win the division title, they’ll still have at least
one home playoff game and with a little luck, they could still earn
a bye, too.

Plus, they’re about to get much stronger.

Defensive captain Gary Brackett has missed the past two games
with turf toe. Running back Joseph Addai hasn’t played since Oct.
17 because of a nerve injury in his left shoulder. Linebacker Clint
Session hasn’t played since Nov. 1 because of a dislocated right
elbow, and receiver Austin Collie didn’t even make it through the
first quarter Sunday in his first game back after sustaining a
concussion Nov. 7 at Philadelphia.

Coach Jim Caldwell hasn’t said whether any of those guys will
play Sunday night against San Diego though team president Bill
Polian has said he believes most of the injured players, including
safety Bob Sanders, could return by the Dallas game Dec. 5.

Colts fans believe the return of those players would give the
offense and defense an immediate boost and help Indianapolis
reassert its preseason position as a Super Bowl contender.

”I don’t think it works like that,” said Addai, who is still
struggling to protect the ball and himself because of the injury.
”For me, I’ve been taking reps for about two weeks in practice
with the looks squad. But you really don’t know until get into the
game and you have to get back into that mode.”

The Colts learned that the hard way when Marvin Harrison missed
most of the 2007 season with a knee injury and then returned for a
playoff game against San Diego. In the first quarter, Harrison lost
a rare fumble and the Colts inexplicably wound up losing to a team
that finished the game without Philip Rivers or LaDainian
Tomlinson.

What can the Colts do now?

Start winning the close ones again.

Four of Indy’s six wins have come by double digits. Three of the
four losses have come by a field goal or less.

And now, they just need Manning and the offense to get back to
what they do best.

”I think often times what happens is that everybody wants to
blame somebody,” Caldwell said. ”There were other factors other
than just him. With a guy that’s a great leader, he shoulders a lot
of the responsibility, but there were other factors in there,
too.”