AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
Date: Jan. 21, 2007. Site: RCA Dome
In a closer vote than it should have been, Indianapolis Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game -- a play that helped seal an 18-point comeback and a spot in the Super Bowl -- was voted as the team's most memorable play.
I was wrong. So were a number of other people, too.
That play received 40 percent of the more than 30,000 votes, barely edging out quarterback Peyton Manning's then-record breaking 49th touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers in 2004. Manning's touchdown pass received 38 percent of the votes.
The Colts' 28-point comeback against Kansas City in the playoffs last season was a distant third in the voting (22 percent).
Manning's record-setting touchdown passing obviously is huge because it's a milestone during what will end up being a Hall-of-Fame career. But Jackson's interception was substantial for the franchise.
The Colts had been eliminated by the Patriots the previous two times they faced each other in the playoffs. Indianapolis finally got New England, the AFC power squad, off its back in a fashion that didn't seem possible when the Colts walked into the locker room down 15 points at halftime.
So after four consecutive playoff appearances that ended short of a Super Bowl appearance, Manning and the Colts celebrated clinching a Super Bowl berth in front of their fans.
"[The Patriots] were a nemesis of ours for years," Jackson said. "We beat them to get over the hump. And the fashion we were able to come back after being down by 18 points and still believing because of a great simple speech by coach Tony Dungy."
The Colts went on to beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in the Super Bowl.
An interception that helped the franchise eventually win a Super Bowl or a touchdown pass that set a single-season record?
Seems like an easy choice to make even if the voting didn't appear that way.
The Colts look at Luck in the same way they looked at Peyton Manning (minus having to part ways with him at some point). They want to keep Luck under center and have him lead the Colts to the Super Bowl multiple times.
If the first two years are in any indication, the Colts are in a good position to accomplish those things with Luck. The only real question -- one that has been burning since Luck’s rookie year -- is whether he will be as durable as Manning because of poor offensive line play?
Luck has been sacked so many times (73) during the first two years of his career that you’re left wondering at times how he has yet to miss any snaps in a game because of an injury. He has shaken off countless hits to lead the Colts to 22 regular-season victories and three playoff games in just two seasons.
Still, the Colts are flirting with danger when it comes to their franchise player because of poor pass protection.
The Colts are set at tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus on the left and right side, respectively.
The interior part of the line has remained poor, however.
Luck has a new center in Khaled Holmes, who played only 12 snaps last season. Hugh Thornton is the frontrunner to retain one of the guard spots, while the other guard position is uncertain. Rookie Jack Mewhort could end up starting at guard. If so, Luck and the interior part of the offensive line will grow together. Luck, in just his third season, is the elder statesmen of the group. Holmes and Thornton are both in their second season, and Mewhort has yet to play an NFL snap.
This is the last of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Indianapolis Colts history dating to when they moved to Indianapolis in 1984. The first nomination was second-year quarterback Andrew Luck leading the Colts from 28 points down in the second half to beat Kansas City in the AFC playoffs last season. The second was cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception of New England quarterback Tom Brady with 18 seconds left to seal the Colts' 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game in January 2007.
Score: Colts 34, Chargers 31
Date: Dec. 26, 2004. Site: RCA Dome
Peyton Manning would break Dan Marino's season touchdown passing record on this day. For 59 minutes you thought Manning would have to wait until the season finale against the Denver Broncos to pass the record.
Manning was untouchable by defenders all season leading up to the Week 16 game against San Diego.
But the Chargers sacked him four times, forced two fumbles and intercepted him once.
With the game on the line, though, Manning did what he does best: Be clutch.
Manning shook off the play call that came in through his headset and decided to make a backyard play call to receiver Brandon Stokley.
Manning told Stokley to run a post route.
Lined up in the slot, Stokley threw the defense off balance by faking a fade to the corner and cutting back inside on the post to catch the 21-yard touchdown pass from Manning. Chargers safety Terrence Kiel was faked out so badly by Stokley looking as though he was going to run the corner route that he fell in the end zone.
"You think the NFL is real complex," Manning told reporters after the game. "But it turns into street ball real quick."
The touchdown pass was the 49th of the season thrown by Manning, breaking the record set by Marino in 1984.
"It says a lot about Peyton that here we are, the game on the line, and he calls a play we've never run before," Stokley told reporters. "He calls a post. I just didn't want it to hit me in the face."
Manning spent the weeks leading up to that game talking about how playoff seeding was more important than passing Marino's record. The Colts beat the Chargers in overtime.
"At the time I threw it, there wasn't a lot of emotion for me, because if we don't get the 2-point conversion, this is a down locker room right now," Manning said after the game. "The fact that it happened, we won the game ... . It sure made for an exciting day."
This is the second of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Indianapolis Colts history dating back to when they moved from Baltimore in 1984. The first nomination was second-year quarterback Andrew Luck leading the Colts from 28 points down in the second half to beat Kansas City in the AFC playoffs last season. The final play is Peyton Manning's 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley for Manning's 49th TD of the season, which broke Dan Marino's single-season TD record in 2004.
Score: Colts 38, Patriots 34
Date: Jan. 21, 2007 Site: RCA Dome.
The Colts were down 21-6 at halftime when coach Tony Dungy gave his team a speech that even had his players wondering what he was talking about.
“The speech Coach Dungy gave was quite simple and for us it quite shocking at the same time when he said it. He came in with his cool, calm demeanor. Most coaches wouldn’t be cool and calm at that point in the game. He said it almost jokingly. He goes, ‘You know we got them right where we want them.' He said, 'We’re going to come out after halftime we’re going to go down and score, we’re going to stop them, we’re going to score again and we’ll be right back in the game.’ We were like, ‘We got them what?’ That’s exactly what happened. I think it was his demeanor not as much as what he said, but the way he came across that there was no doubt in his mind that we were going to win the game. We fed off his interview at halftime.
"As far as the play goes, I remember leading up to that play there was a sense that they were coming out in a certain formation. It was trips to my side. Troy Brown was in the slot and a receiver to the outside. I can’t remember the tight end as the third guy. They were pretty much running the same play two to three times in a row, trying to hit the tight end down the seam. It was obvious the first two times when they were dumping the ball down to the back out of the backfield.
"On the actual play, I saw the formation was the same thing so I backed up deeper so I didn’t have to take a deep drop and actually have it be a wasted step making my break on the ball because I was anticipating he was going to go to the tight end in the seam. I knew because of my film study that [Tom] Brady always in those types of situations would throw blindly in the opposite direction and that’s exactly what he did. Snapped the ball, looked opposite of me so I knew once he turned back my way I had already broke on the tight end, which allowed me to get a great jump to make the play and get the interception.
"For me it was a moment of disbelief, like did that really just happen? Did I really just make that play? We were now going to the Super Bowl. It was even sweeter because it was a victory over the New England Patriots. That made it even more special because of the history of the organization leading up to that game. They were a nemesis of ours for years. We beat them to get over the hump. And the fashion we were able to come back after being down by 18 points and still believing because of a great simple speech by coach Tony Dungy.”
@MikeWellsNFL this is too hard! Marlin Interception vs Pats gotta be #1 Watched that last night. I've got like 6 others. I can't pick.— Christie Grennes (@cgrennes) June 5, 2014
This is one of three nominations for the most memorable plays in Colts' history dating back to when they moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984. In the next two days we'll feature: Peyton Manning's 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley for Manning's 49th TD of the season, which broke Dan Marino's single-season TD record in 2004, and cornerback Marlin Jackson's interception of New England quarterback Tom Brady to seal the Colts' 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game in January 2007.
Score: Colts 45, Chiefs 44
Date: January 4, 2014 Site: Lucas Oil Stadium
Indianapolis Colts second-year quarterback Andrew Luck was playing in his first home playoff game, against a team he had beaten two weeks earlier.
Seven-point deficit. Ten-point deficit. Seventeen-point deficit. Twenty-one point deficit. The deficit grew as large as 28 points, and many of the Colts fans at sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium sat stone-faced, not believing what they were watching on the field.
Luck wasn't helping the situation. He looked like a rookie quarterback taking his first snaps. His third interception of the game gave the Chiefs a short field to work with, which they used to increase their lead to 38-10 just 81 seconds into the second half.
“[Luck] kept telling us, even at 38-10, 'We're going to win this game,'" offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said.
Luck wasn't worried about the double-digit deficit. He proved six prior times in his young career that he could lead the Colts back from a double-digit deficit.
Luck -- pun intended -- was on the Colts' side. Trailing 41-31 early in the fourth quarter, Colts running back Donald Brown fumbled a handoff and the ball bounced off of center Samson Satele's helmet. But Luck picked up the ball and ran in from 5 yards out to cut Kansas City's lead to 41-38.
Indianapolis completed the improbable comeback when Luck stepped up in the pocket and found receiver T.Y. Hilton streaking downfield for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game.
The 28-point comeback was the second-largest in NFL playoff history. Long snapper Matt Overton called it an, “Instant ESPN Classic,” after the game.
“[Luck's] not giving you a bunch of bulls--- when he says that stuff,” Castonzo said. “At no point does he not believe we're not going to win. He's led us on a lot of comebacks for a reason. The guy does not freak out.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- So money over marijuana, LaVon Brazill?
That is what Brazill told reporters in training camp in July 2013 after he revealed he was suspended for the first four games of last season for smoking marijuana.
It turns out that was just talk by the Brazill. Now he won’t be making any of the $570,000 he was scheduled to make in 2014 because taking substances not allowed by the NFL is more important.
Brazill’s suspension does make things easier for the Colts coaching staff when it comes to picking the final receiver spots on the roster.
He was expected to be one of the primary options with Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen to compete for possibly up to two receiving spots on the roster depending on how many the Colts decide to keep.
Now Rogers and Whalen have the inside track if the Colts go with six receivers on the roster. The Colts are set with the first four receivers: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.
Luck is ranked higher than fellow quarterbacks like Manning. No, not that Manning, but Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
The quarterbacks are broken up into four tiers. Luck is in Tier 1 with all future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He joins Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in that top tier. Impressive company for a third-year player.
Here is what Sando wrote about Luck:
"Luck doesn't have the track record of the other Tier 1 QBs, and there was a clear gap in the voting between him and the top four. But people in the league love him almost unconditionally, and 14 of the 26 voters insisted upon putting him in the top tier (each of the top four received 25 of 26 Tier 1 votes).
The evaluators think Luck has carried a subpar roster to a 22-10 record without much help. They see no limitations. They have zero doubt about his long-term stardom and felt strongly enough to give him 14 first-tier votes even while acknowledging he is below the Big Four at this early stage. Every other QB fell into the tier in which he received the most votes, and so shall Luck, even if his Tier 1 designation feels a bit premature."
The Colts' offensive line was atrocious Luck’s rookie season and only a little better last season. Luck didn’t have a reliable receiver to turn to outside of T.Y. Hilton after Reggie Wayne went down with a torn ACL in Week 7 last season. The running game? That was a problem, too.
Thornton says he was “hesitant” and “timid” in his rookie season. It didn’t take him long to realize he was no longer at the University of Illinois.
Inconsistent is a good way to describe Thornton’s rookie season. There were times when he looked completely overwhelmed and other times when you could see his potential.
That’s expected when you consider that Thornton, the Colts’ third-round pick in 2013, wasn’t expected to play as a rookie because Thomas and Mike McGlynn were set at guard.
“Last season taught me how to be a professional, learning how to be accountable for your job,” Thornton said. “It helped me be a better teammate. It definitely humbled me a lot as far as coming out of college and through the draft and everything, you’re considered as the best of your group. Now you come to the NFL and you’re at the bottom of the totem pole and there’s some humility in that.”
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson had positive thoughts about Thornton’s rookie season.
“We were really pleased,” Grigson said. “You talk about a guy who can match up with anybody physically. He matched with [San Francisco’s] Justin Smith in that first game. He had his snags, but heck, for a guy who is 336 [pounds], the way he moves around, he looks great out there.”
The Colts will likely have two new starters – at guard and center – on the interior part of the offensive line this season, but Thornton, even though he doesn’t see it that way, is in the position to maintain his starting spot. Thornton, who said nothing is a given, spent the offseason at right guard with the first unit. He could end up being the veteran member of the interior part of the offensive line if rookie Jack Mewhort and second-year player Khaled Holmes start at guard and center, respectively.
“It’s all about competence, his overall knowledge of what he’s doing,” Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “He’s done a great job of really spending time just watching the film and working on communicating with the guys that are around him and beside him and just gaining a better understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively. But he’s a bear now. He’s big and strong and he’s another smart guy that we have on our offense.”
But that hasn't stopped fans from asking about what the Colts' depth chart will look like this season. It's July and players, coaches and front office officials are taking one last vacation before reporting for the start of training camp in Anderson, Indiana, on July 23. So for the next two days I'll take a shot at who I think the starters will be.
We'll start with the offense today. We'll do the defense on Tuesday.
Quarterback: Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck
Comment: This is self-explanatory. Go ahead and keep Luck's name there as long as he's healthy.
Running back: Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, Stanley Havili
Comment: As I mentioned last week when I did position battles, Richardson will be given the first shot at starting because of his talent and the last thing the Colts want to show is that their trade for him last September was a failure.
Receiver: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks
Comments: The pressure isn't on Wayne to be the Reggie Wayne of a few years ago because he has help with Hilton and Nicks at the position, but Wayne is out to prove that he can still produce at the age 35 and after tearing his ACL.
Tight end: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen
Comment: Allen is a better all-around tight end than Fleener, but he missed all but one game last season because of a hip injury.
Offensive line: (LT) Anthony Castonzo, (LG) Jack Mewhort, (C) Khaled Holmes, (RG) Hugh Thornton, (RT) Gosder Cherilus
Comment: The only position really up in the air at the moment is left guard. Mewhort currently has the edge because Donald Thomas didn't take part in offseason workouts and he moved ahead of Lance Louis during organized team activities (OTAs).
Football as a whole is a different sport for Swoope.
He didn't play it in any youth leagues growing up in Southern California. He didn't play it in high school. And he definitely didn't play it at the University of Miami, where he averaged 5 points per game as a senior on the school's basketball team.
"Learning football terminologies has been the biggest challenge," Swoope said. "It's a different language. Trying to get myself, I'm not going to say forget about basketball, but take the terminology and set it to the side so I can really hone into the different languages used in football."
As improbable as it might seem with his lack of experience, there was the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Swoope catching passes from quarterback Andrew Luck during offseason workouts.
"Andrew makes it so easy," Swoope said. "You just have to make sure you do your stuff correct because he'll put the ball in the right place."
The road to making the Colts has just started for Swoope. He's considered a project player who will likely spend the season on the practice squad if the Colts decide to keep him. The Colts already have established tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen on the roster. It's all about progress with Swoope, who hopes to join San Diego's Antonio Gates and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham in making the transition from college basketball to NFL tight end.
"It's been a pleasant surprise just to see how he's been able to acclimate himself to the game of football," Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "His natural-born talents show every day in practice. He does an amazing job of going up and catching the football, making difficult catches. He has a catching radius that's off the charts. It'll be interesting to see how he comes along during training camp when we put the pads on and actually start practicing football."
Swoope will spend the rest of the offseason working out in Miami with former Hurricane players preparing for his first training camp.
"I just know that will come with reps and practice and just trusting my own abilities," he said. "I feel like I'm making steady progress every day. I just need to continue to do that once we get to training camp."
He didn't disappoint during an interview with the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell. Not only did McAfee say he wants to handle kickoff and field goal duties whenever Adam Vinatieri retires, he also said he'd like to try hitting a 75-yard field goal during the Colts' season opener against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"I think we could legitimately go from 75 yards. Not even a question about it," McAfee said. "I think in warmups I'd be able to hit from 80, like full strain. Probably try it a couple of times.
"... I've already been politicking for the shot. If I kick a 75-yarder at Denver I might retire right afterwards. You might see me untie my shoes on the field and just walk off: 'See ya.' You know, go out on top."
McAfee certainly has the leg. He kicked a 75-yard field goal during a workout in the summer of 2011.
For the record, the NFL record is 64 yards, set by Denver's Matt Prater last season.
Here are additional pieces of Colts-related content from around the web in our Reading the Coverage feature:
Wells: You can't count out Ahmad Bradshaw based off how he played in his brief time on the field before getting injured last season. ESPN NFL Insider Jim Trotter had an interesting nugget recently. He wrote on Twitter that Trent Richardson, according to coaches, is relying more on his instincts when running instead of thinking it through and he has a chance to be a "three-down player." I'd say at this point -- and mind you, so much can change over the next few months -- that you have to think Richardson and Bradshaw are the frontrunners.
@MikeWellsNFL who do you personally think to be the starting running back for the Indianapolis Colts next season? How does TR look?— Mason Ross (@Sauce_Ross) June 19, 2014
Wells: The outside linebacker position is simply Bjoern Werner's to lose. Play well and the starting position is his. Struggle and it'll be open competition for Robert Mathis' spot during his absence. You can't really get a good indication on how a player looks based off drills where they're not wearing pads or going full speed. A better indicator will be once the pads go on in training camp.
@MikeWellsNFL How's Bjoern Werner looking? Does he look ready to take on an increased role with Mathis out?— Tommy Bond (@TommyN_Bond) June 19, 2014
Wells: Donte Moncrief will be given the opportunity to be the Colts' fourth receiver, but don't be surprised if he's not a major contributor next season. Here's what offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had to say about Moncrief during minicamp. "He is big, fast and smart. He has the tools to be a legitimate down the field threat. He's been working his tail off with [receivers] coach [Charlie] Williams to learn the offense and more importantly, develop continuity with our quarterback. He's done some good things over the course of the offseason program and expect that he'll pick up where he leaves off in training camp."
@MikeWellsNFL is moncrief more of a project guy or do you think he is actually going to contribute other than ST?Longterm starter potential?— Nathaniel J. Ford (@n8james4d) June 19, 2014
Wells: Second-round pick Jack Mewhort. The offensive lineman is capable of playing all five positions on the line. A positive for Mewhort is that he moved ahead of Lance Louis and was working with the first unit by the end of offseason workouts. The competition for that starting spot will intensify in training camp once Donald Thomas starts practicing. It'll be Louis and Thomas as the two primary players pushing Mewhort for that starting spot. Wells: The Colts have about $13.7 million in salary cap space left. Colts GM Ryan Grigson said a number of times earlier in the offseason that they didn't plan to use all their salary-cap space because they'll have to pay players like Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton at some point down road.
@MikeWellsNFL biggest impact from a rookie this year?- Nate Walton (@realnatewalton) June 20, 2014
Wells: That's strictly up to Daniel Adongo. Practice well and play well in the preseason and he'll have a chance to get on the field in a game. The opportunity will definitely be there early in the season when linebacker Robert Mathis is serving his four-game suspension. Playing time at Mathis' position is far from set. It's up to Adongo to prove he deserves to get snaps. Wells: It's way, way too early to tell if Ahmad Bradshaw can stay healthy. Teams don't wear pads during offseason workouts, and even then, Bradshaw joined the quarterbacks and fellow running back Trent Richardson by wearing a red non-contact jersey. Bradshaw's health was the only thing that stopped him from being the Colts' starting running back last season. Bradshaw and Richardson were the only two running backs of three expected to push for the starting spot to take part in offseason workouts. Vick Ballard, the third, is still working his way back from a torn ACL.
@MikeWellsNFL What is the likelihood that we see Daniel Adongo playing on defense this season?- Steve Mosley (@SMosley21) June 20, 2014
That's an understandable message from Pagano considering the Colts had three players get in trouble in the summer of 2013.
Receiver LaVon Brazill and tight end Weslye Saunders were suspended by the NFL for violating league policies. Saunders was released and later re-signed. Safety Joe Lefeged was arrested in Washington.
The last thing the Colts need is anymore more negative headlines since owner Jim Irsay (arrested) and linebacker Robert Mathis (suspended) have already given the franchise some unwanted attention this offseason.
"If you look at, every year we get the stats at the owners' meeting when guys happen to make bad choices and this is usually the time of year where the volume of that goes up," Pagano said. "We talk to them daily about it, it doesn't matter what time of year. They do have to make great choices and it's all about protecting the shield and protecting the shoe. If we make a decision, any decision, ‘Is this going to harm the shoe and harm the name on the back of my jersey?' I trust our guys. We've got good character guys and they'll make great decisions."
Quarterback Andrew Luck wasn't taking snaps. Receiver T.Y. Hilton wasn't catching passes. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was walking around the facility in street clothes.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano rewarded the veteran players by allowing them to miss the final day of minicamp.
That means the Colts' rookie class got plenty of snaps and quarterback Chandler Harnish, who has spent his first two seasons on the practice squad, was the one throwing the ball around the field.
"Met with the guys and just felt like as a staff we've had such great participation, great work, made great strides," Pagano said. "Everybody got better. We got better on all three phases. Felt like we wanted to get the young guys some work so we let the vets go and kept first and second-year guys and give them another opportunity to get the work that they need and to come out here to get better."
Pagano, like most coaches do, ended the final minicamp practice early when kicker Cody Parkey nailed a field goal and was immediately mobbed by his teammates.
The Colts won't be back together as a team until they report for training camp at Anderson University (Ind.) on July 23.
"Pleased with the offseason program, pleased with the minicamp and the direction we're headed and the guys are excited to get away," Pagano said. "We talked about being smart, doing the right thing, making great choices and staying in the playbook, working at their craft day-in and day-out. So with that, we're happy where we're at."