“I’m looking for a safe word here, I don’t want to be a bad teammate,” Manning told reporters after being asked about Indianapolis’ blown blocking assignments. “Pittsburgh gave us trouble and put us in some situations we’re not usually in.”
Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter was right — the Colts are a finesse team, only able to win by trickery.
Manning took his first snap Sunday with the Colts down 7-0, and he started pushing the panic button immediately. Manning chicken-danced his team to eight passing calls and only three runs. Sure, Edgerrin James ran for only five yards, but the passing plays weren’t any better. Manning, pressured relentlessly by the Pittsburgh line and some combination of blitzers, completed only two-of-six first-quarter passes for 37 yards, and was sacked twice for 17 yards.
(Recall that Pittsburgh already lost 26-7 at Indianapolis in the regular season, so the Steelers knew they had better jump ahead early, or else Manning would settle into a groove.)
Manning clanked three more passes in the second quarter before deciding maybe running might be worth a try. James ran seven times for 42 yards, the threat of his legs helping Manning go 6-for-6 for 49 yards, as the Colts drove from their own 2 for a nine-minute, thirty-second drive.
Alas, a James Mungro touchdown run got called back because of left tackle Tarik Glenn’s false start penalty, and the drive stalled at the Steelers 2, forcing a Vanderjagt field goal with 1:20 left in the half.
Manning started the third quarter like he started the first — he stunk.
The Steelers’ final touchdown was set up by a “drive” that started at the Colts’ 9, and went clank, clank, sack, with the ensuing punt giving the Steelers only 30 yards to go to the end zone and take a 21-3 lead.
Manning’s 50-yard pass-and-run to tight end Dallas Clark finished his “get-the-punt-team-off-the-field” drive to close the margin to 21-10.
With 31 seconds left, Manning had the Colts on the Pittsburgh 28, second down and two yards to go, with two timeouts. Manning’s pass to Reggie Wayne in the end zone was broken up. Not a terrible decision — go for a touchdown and see what happens.
But on third-and-2, with 25 seconds left and two times out, Manning threw an out to Wayne that was nearly intercepted. The question is, why throw that pass? Manning could have run James out of the shotgun to pick up enough for the first down, particularly with Pittsburgh playing for a pass, then call a time out. The Colts could have run another play or two — maybe another crack at the end zone, or more James runs to make for a closer field goal, plays run to where Vanderjagt was most comfortable kicking.
While Vanderjagt hadn’t missed a kick at home this year, his better days are behind him. Having James run might have seemed conservative, but the time for another pass play was after picking up the first down. At the least, that would have gotten the Colts closer to the goalpost. A 46-yard field goal is no chip shot. Especially not the way Vanderjagt pushed it.
Vanderjagt legitimately should have walked off the field and kept on walking out of the RCA Dome, all the way to his native Canada, after missing a game-tying kick that badly. But the blame for the loss, again, falls firmly on Manning, who once again underperformed when the season was on the line.
Maybe the Colts need to sign Tee Martin to finally get over the hump.
PFT: Jets RB Mike Goodson was charged with five gun and drug counts Friday morning, after New Jersey State Police found the car he was riding in parked in the middle of Route 80 in Denville, N.J.
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