"Despite adversity, they may be better than last year

One year ago, the Indianapolis Colts were 7-0 and the talk of the National Football League. Pundits were speculating about a possible 16-0 season and an almost certain coronation in the Super Bowl.

This season, the Colts are once again 7-0 but few outside the Indy metropolitan area seem to be paying very much attention. The Colts are mentioned, with four or five other teams, as possible Super Bowl contenders but the hype surrounding last season’s undefeated start seems to be gone.

What a difference a season makes.

Part of it, of course, is media fatigue. After spending the past few seasons building up the Colts as prohibitive champs and preparing the canonization of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, even the drive-by media have run out of ways to hype the team.

And season after season of heartbreaking defeat in the playoffs have also made many wary of putting the Colts’ cart before the horse, so to speak.

Add in the fact that the RCA Dome may be the most unpleasant venue in which to attend (or cover) a game – it looks like it was designed by a Stalin-era Soviet architect as a detention center – and the notion of building up the Colts becomes even more unattractive to the media.

It’s their loss, however, because this year’s Colts team may be the best in its Indianapolis history, better than last year’s team by a considerable margin, given the difficulties the 2006 Colts have faced.

The difference in this year’s squad is their dogged determination, the ability to come from behind and a knack for overcoming adversity. Maybe the team’s received the Heimlich maneuver after choking in big games for the past few years or maybe they’ve just been lucky.

But few teams have had to suffer like the Colts have this season.

You could build a pretty good squad around the Colts players who’ve suffered major or season-ending injuries this season: Corey Simon, Mike Doss, Montae Reagor, Bob Sanders and seemingly hundreds more. If the Colts’ team doctors are paid by the hour, they’ll all be buying new Corvettes after the season.

The Colts let a Hall of Fame running back, Edgerrin James, walk out the door and still haven’t settled on a full-time replacement. Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, the backfield-by-committee, are treating every game as a job audition – and nearly matching James’ 2005 stats between the two of them.

The Colts looked flat in several games and seemed headed for defeat, only to come from behind in the fourth quarter to win again and again.

So, despite a shredded defense, more injuries than Kenny of South Park, media and fan indifference, the Colts are undefeated going into the halfway mark of the season.

Before laying down money on an unbeaten season, there are a few sobering things to consider.

For one, the Colts are the worst team in defending against the run. On Sunday, it didn’t matter if Mike Bell or Tatum Bell were given the ball, because both just decimated the Colts’ weak D.

Their pass defense has struggled with consistency from game to game, a byproduct of having to replace injured players every week.

The Colts are gambling that Manning’s arm will lead them to victory. Backup QB Jim Sorgi is as untested as a beta version of Microsoft Windows. And the third-string quarterback? Well, there is none, although Jeff George is still available as a free agent.

One thing in the Colts’ favor is that their usual rivals are even worse off than they are. Pittsburgh, the team that upset them in last year’s playoffs on their way to a championship ring, is in meltdown. The New England Patriots have been erratic this year. The Jacksonville Jaguars seem to be intimidated by the Colts. And the Denver Broncos, although coming close, couldn’t beat the Colts despite playing their best game of the year.

After Sunday’s game against the 5-1 Patriots, only two of the remaining seven teams the Colts will face have a record north of .500, the 4-3 Jaguars and the 4-3 Bengals. (Dallas, whom the Colts will face on Nov. 19, was 3-3 going into Monday’s game.)

Besides that, they’re playing gutsy, smashmouth football, less reliant on the deep lob and more reliant on an 11-man effort on both sides of the ball.

For even the most pessimistic Colts fan, there is now reason for hope.