Colts positioned for another shot at Super Bowl
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Jim Caldwell knows how tough life can be for Super Bowl losers.
Recent history shows they don’t win as many games the next season, they don’t make it back to the playoffs and they certainly don’t get a second shot at the Lombardi Trophy. It’s all there in black and white, for anyone who cares to look: Seven of the last nine missed the playoffs, and none reached the Super Bowl the next year.
Yet Caldwell, coach of the defending AFC champs, thinks this year might be different.
“I have taken a look at it and we have taken a few precautions,” Indy’s second-year coach said. “The other thing is, looking back at this group, they have always found a way to bounce back from tough losses.”
Indy clearly appears better-positioned to avoid the year-after fate than other teams.
With the only four-time MVP in league history still in his prime and the deepest receiving corps of his career, the offense should continue to score points by the dozens. With all 11 defensive starters and Bob Sanders healthy for the first time in three years, the Colts could have their best defense in the Peyton Manning era, too.
But Indy is not the first team to think the Super Bowl hex doesn’t apply to them.
Take the 2008 Patriots. The three-time Super Bowl winners were coming off a perfect 16-0 season and had the reigning MVP in Tom Brady – for less than one half. He tore his ACL in Week 1, the Pats wound up 10-6 and missed the playoffs.
Then there’s the case of the 2002 Rams. The Greatest Show on Turf had produced three straight MVP-winning seasons and played in two Super Bowl in three years. They were derailed by injuries to Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner and started 0-5. St. Louis still hasn’t recovered.
During the offseason, Caldwell started asking questions about how to avoid a similar fate.
“One thing I did was ask a coach who had been in the Super Bowl and had lost was what was the one thing he remembered the season after losing the Super Bowl,” Caldwell said. “He said, ‘It felt like we had two seasons back-to-back with no break.”‘
Fatigue could be one explanation. Some observers contend all those extra hits will eventually lead to more injuries and that the regular playoff teams, such as the Pats or Colts, find themselves more susceptible.
And whether it was Brady’s torn ACL, Warner’s broken pinkie, Rich Gannon’s shoulder injury or Shaun Alexander’s broken foot, injuries have been a big factor in those seasons to forget.
But not everyone agrees.
“You finish in February and you play your next game in September, so I never have bought into the whole Super Bowl hangover,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith, who experienced it himself in 2007. “I know it’s happened, and I don’t know the reason why. … (But) more wear and tear? No.”
Other teams have been derailed by distractions. Remember the Eagles suspending Terrell Owens in 2005?
But whatever the reason, the numbers cannot be ignored.
– Only Arizona, last year, and Seattle, in 2006, made it back to the playoffs the following season, though neither reached the conference title game.
– Arizona, in 2009, is the only team produce more wins after losing the title game. The other eight teams all won four or fewer games the next season.
– Only one losing team, the New York Giants, has even made it back to the Super Bowl since 2000. Baltimore beat the Giants in February 2001, and didn’t return until ending the Pats’ prefect season in February 2008.
“Seven of nine missed the playoffs? That’s a huge number, and I think that means there has to be some kind of complacency or guys pointing fingers or whatever,” Colts defensive captain Gary Brackett said during mini-camp. “There won’t be any complacency here, that’s for sure.”
Caldwell did make some offseason changes.
After the phone call to the unidentified coach, he decided to push back the start of offseason workouts by a month, and didn’t make the Colts report to training camp until Aug. 1.
The theory was that the Colts would have more time to get refreshed – and perhaps avoid injuries.
“I think we had enough of a break,” Manning said before a preseason game at Green Bay on Aug. 26. “I thought we had a good offseason, good work, and training camp has been productive. It’s been a good offseason.”
If Caldwell’s plan works, it could become a roadmap for future teams.
But the most critical element for the Colts may be their experience in similar situations.
Manning remembers Indy’s preseason trip to Japan in 2005 and how everyone wanted to know about the long-term impact of such a grueling trip.
It didn’t bother the Colts. After going 0-5 in the preseason, they won their first 13 regular-season games before losing to San Diego.
“I think it’s all about how you handle it as a team,” Manning said.
And over the years, nobody has handled success better than Indy.
The Colts have won six division crowns in the last seven years, own the league record for most consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins (seven) and last year broke the Patriots’ record for most consecutive regular-season wins (23).
So can the Colts break the hex, too?
“We talk about being professional, we treat every team with respect and we get up for every game. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. “We don’t really talk about that stuff. We know what our goals are this year for this team, and we’re working to achieve them.”
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago also contributed to this report.