By Tom James
MIAMI — Moving forward after a 31-17 Super Bowl XLIV loss to the New Orleans Saints won’t be easy for the Indianapolis Colts.
Too many mistakes. Too many missed opportunities. A 16-3 record falls by the wayside after a year in which the Colts constantly found ways to make big plays, found ways to win games despite not playing well in some key areas.
“Anytime you lose the last game of the season, it’s difficult,” Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said. “Particularly on this [Super Bowl] stage. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
“Obviously, [the Colts] can hold their heads up. They fought all season long. They performed well all season long. So we’ll just use this disappointment as fuel for next year. And as soon as we get over it, we’ll look to try to mold this team and see if we can get back here [to the Super Bowl] next year.”
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne said that Colts, as tough as it might be, need to look ahead to the 2010 season.
“That’s to be determined [how Indianapolis will bounce back]. We’ve just got to step up. We’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay as a tight group. We’ve got to figure out a way to bounce back,” Wayne said.
“That’s the way the game goes. You win some, you lose some. I just feel that we have the caliber of team that will stick together and figure out a way to not have this feeling. Hopefully we will keep [the Colts’ recent run of success] going.”
His quarterback, Peyton Manning, agreed.
“I felt like we played well in this postseason. We played well in our first playoff game. Played well [against the New York Jets in the AFC championship game]. At times we made plays against the Saints. But we obviously didn’t make enough plays. We just didn’t play well enough to win,” he said.
Tight end Dallas Clark had a hard time to put things into perspective.
“It’s miserable. It’s not the way you want to end your season. It’s still a little early to comment on a true feeling.
“But it’s not good,” Clark said. “We had our opportunities. We just weren’t able to take advantage of them.”
Defensive tackle Daniel Muir said the Indianapolis players need to try to put the loss behind them.
“One thing about our team is that we are never down. It doesn’t matter. We are going to fight you until the end,” he said. “Guys were obviously upset. [Losing to the Saints] was not the outcome that we wanted in the football game. It is hard to take a loss, especially one of this magnitude.”
Weakside linebacker Clint Session was at a loss for words to explain what happened to Super Bowl XLIV.
“This is a tough feeling. This is a tough feeling. You let the city down. We let ourselves down. We let the [coaching] staff down. They’re not playing. We’re out there playing. I don’t know man. It’s tough. It’s a tough loss,” Session said.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden tried to put the Super Bowl loss to the Saints, and the entire 2009 season, into some perspective.
“It’s disappointing because we set the mission to come out as Super Bowl champions and we feel one game short,” Hayden said.
“We just fall into the pile with the rest of the teams [in the league]. We didn’t finish the task. Not taking anything away from this season because we had a great season as a team. We fought adversity week in and week out. We had a great year.”
n Taking advantage of opportunities — As good as the Indianapolis Colts offense has been this past season, and it was pretty good for most of the year, the lack of quality possessions was one of the differences in the team’s Super Bowl XLIV loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“Every possession felt precious out there,” Manning said. “I was disappointed on the first series [of the game] having to settle for a field goal. Then we had a third-down drop [of a pass] which stopped another drive. Had a third drive where we got stopped and then moved the ball pretty well in the second half when we had it.”
As much as offensive possessions, or rather the lack of them, was key, so was the inability of the Colts to come up with the football on an onside kick attempt to begin the second half.
“The onside kick was huge. As a special-teams captain on the team, I feel like we kind of didn’t do what we were supposed to do. We always talk about the little thing and that [the onside kick] was a little thing that was huge,” said strong safety Melvin Bullitt.
“If we would’ve gotten the ball right there, maybe on the 40-yard line going in, the game could’ve went a totally different way. [New Orleans] scored on that drive immediately. And we just didn’t capitalize on defense.”
Another problem was an old one that raised its head once again — getting off the field defensively on third down.
“You have to put forth a better effort,” said Session. “You have to come together and do something, get off the field on third down.”