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Colts can't be counted out in playoffs

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Last season, they were the favorites when the playoffs began. Today, nobody believes they can knock off New England and some feel they will struggle against the New York Jets when this championship season kicks off on Saturday.

Yep, the Indianapolis Colts look like just another playoff team.

This team isn’t entirely healthy, but the Colts do have Peyton Manning, who passed for a career-high 4,700 yards this season. You could say they backed into the playoffs until you realize they finished with four straight wins after an overtime loss to the Cowboys. They secured their own fate by beating their division rival, Jacksonville, in the AFC South’s money game two weeks ago.

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I don’t care how you feel about the Colts, but this is their ninth straight season in the playoffs, matching a league record. And one good thing about this team is that it stiffened against the run down the stretch.

The Colts stopped Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, holding him to 39 yards in 20 carries, in Sunday’s win. During the final three weeks, the Colts held Jacksonville, Oakland and Tennessee without a 50-yard rusher.

This team could have tanked, but it didn’t. The Colts suffered a bitter disappointment when they were smacked by the Saints in the Super Bowl last year. They have been playing without their great tight end, Dallas Clark, and twice have seen stud receiver Austin Collie get carted off with concussions. Those two are gone, but Manning still has Reggie Wayne (111 receptions this season) and Pierre Garcon.

What has been impressive is that Jacob Tamme has developed into a quality substitute for Clark and Bill Polian found another undrafted receiver in Blair White. The rookie from Michigan State had a 20-yard catch that set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winner from 43 yards as time expired against the Titans.

White finished the season with 36 receptions and five touchdowns; Tamme ended up with 67 catches. These players will be essential to Manning on Saturday night because you figure the Jets’ Darrelle Revis will take Wayne out of the equation.

The Colts finished with the No. 3 seed because the Chiefs were mauled at home by the Raiders, a team that finished 6-0 in its division and failed to make the playoffs. Only Oakland and Al Davis can do something like that!

“You certainly hope we can build a little bit (off the Titans win),” quarterback Peyton Manning said after the game. “There is no question that (the Tennessee game) was one that we wanted to win. I do believe in momentum. And I do think your practices are better coming off a win. So that is a positive thing.”

But what’s key for the Colts is that they can put this almost-lost regular season behind them. As Joseph Addai said, everyone is 0-0 now.

“The regular season is over, and we’ve got that fresh start,” Addai said. “I do think we have come together as a team. That’s the big thing. We were able to step up and just keep on trying to win games. We were able to do that and control what we could control. In tough times, we came together.”

The Colts aren’t the Yankees, but they are a resolute bunch. Their stars, from Manning to Dwight Freeney, have been in dozens of big games, and they know how to deal with pressure. They’ve been there before. In the Manning era, this is the Colts’ 11th season with 10 or more wins.

Yes, the Jets have been the talk of this season, on and off the field. But Rex Ryan wasn’t even coaching New York when the Colts won their Super Bowl, plus the Jets have some missing and limping members on defense, too.

But the best sideshow to this matchup is that Colts owner Jimmy Irsay, who has totally embraced Twitter, has found time between giving away cars and tickets and talking about partying with Hunter S. Thompson to comment on Ryan’s personal life.

Irsay recently tweeted: “Feet fetishes started in Ancient Rome. I think the King just got plain bored.” He also tweeted: “I’m gonna develop a fetish, sell Myself out to Deadspin. Or National Enq./and make'Lots of $$$$ and a G5!!!!!"

I haven’t heard a Twitter response from Jets owner Woody Johnson. Plus, we already thought Irsay’s private plane was a Gulfstream G500.

NOTES & THOUGHTS

 My stats friend, Michael Berger of Fox NFL Sunday, was keeping track of every touchdown pass on Sunday. Unbelievably, Carolina’s Jimmy Claussen threw the pass that broke the old NFL record of 732 touchdowns in a regular season. Claussen’s pass turned out to be No. 733 for the 2010 season. By the time Seattle’s Charlie Whitehurst finished the day with a touchdown against the Rams, quarterbacks had teamed for 36 on the day, pushing the new record to 751. Yes, the NFL has truly become a passing league.

 Not for nothing, but it wasn’t a good sign for the Saints that Josh Freeman was the sharper quarterback in beating Drew Brees.

 And Minnesota’s Joe Webb came back to earth against the Detroit Lions with only 145 yards passing and an interception.

 Jamaal Charles stayed on the field for one final carry against the Raiders and he lost a yard. What it meant was he missed breaking Jim Brown’s 47-year-old record of 6.40 yards a carry in a single season, the best per carry average among running backs with a minimum of 200 carries in a season. In the 1963 season, Brown gained 1,863 yards on 291 carries. Charles finished the 2010 season with 230 carries for 1,467 yards, an average of 6.38 yards per carry. Charles had the record until his final run.

 Without Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens on the field down the stretch, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer looked sharper than he did at midseason. And Jerome Simpson, who had 12 catches and a touchdown Sunday against Baltimore, has a big future with the Bengals. Simpson was a second-round pick from Coastal Carolina in 2008.

 The Chargers have to feel sick today, missing the playoffs and wasting those 4,710 passing yards by Philip Rivers. But, finally, No. 1 pick Ryan Mathews had a big day, rushing for three touchdowns and 120 yards against the Broncos.

 There are a lot of great receivers in the NFL right now, but two of my favorite deep threats are Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace and Green Bay’s Greg Jennings. Those two always seem wide open deep by five yards.

 

Tagged: Bengals, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Saints, Jets, Chargers, Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Mathews, Blair White

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