Antonio Cromartie Kickoff Return Receives Blame for Loss by Colts Brass
With one exception.
Polian, entering his 14th season as the Colts' president, said during his weekly radio show this week that the team's offense and defense played well enough to win their first-round playoff game. It was, he said, two kickoff coverages -- particularly one late in the game -- that cost the team a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday.
The loss ended the Colts' season.
"I won't sugarcoat it or make excuses," Polian said on his radio show as quoted on Colts.com. "Kickoff coverage lost the game for us."
Polian on his season-ending show this week praised the play-calling of offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen in the Jets game, as well as the play of quarterback Peyton Manning.
"Clyde called a phenomenal game, given the way they were playing, what they were taking away from us," Polian said. "We made high-percentage throws. We ran the ball very, very well. We didn't run for big yardage, but we ran for good yardage and very important yardage. In the second half, it paid off for us."
He also said considering the team's injury situation, the offense and the defense played as well as could be expected in the playoff loss.
"Defensively, I don't know that we're capable of playing any better than we played, especially given all the injuries," Polian said. "That's true on offense, too."
Polian said failure to cover the final kickoff lost the game.
On the play, Jets returner Antonio Cromartie -- substituting for injured Brad Smith -- returned a kick a yard deep in the end zone 47 yards to the Jets 46. The Jets then drove for a 32-yard field goal on the game's final play.
"So, it boils down to about two kickoff returns worth about 88 yards, which we didn't cover," Polian said. "It's that simple. Bill Parcells often says every 10 yards is worth one point. We gave them eight points, nine points basically, in terms of field position by our kickoff coverage. Both cases, it was one guy getting out of his lane, not maintaining lane discipline.
"Cromartie is a great straight-ahead runner and if you maintain lane discipline and don't give him a lane, he's going to change direction, which is not a strength. That lost the game for us, pure and simple."
Polian said the kickoff return was particularly upsetting because the defense minutes earlier had stopped the Jets on downs twice -- once after a punt and then again after the Jets were awarded a first down on a running-into-the-kicker penalty -- to set up a 50-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
"It hurts like the devil," Polian said. "It's one of those that will take a long time getting over, because when you play as well as we played, and when you manage the game as well as we managed it with as many people missing as we had, and you had the defense rise up and make two stops under the most difficult of conditions and have to go out on the field and do two stops back-to-back with the game on the line, and then come down the field and kick a 50-yard field goal to win the game and then you don't win it? Boy, oh boy, oh boy, it's really hard to swallow.
"It's there. It isn't changing. There's nothing we can do about it."
Polian also said cornerback Jacob Lacey wasn't at fault on a pass to Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards that set up the game-winning field goal.
"It was a tremendous play by Edwards," Polian said. "Those things are going to happen. I repeat: no kickoff return, probably no play like that."