Bill Polian probably fell victim to Peyton Manning’s neck injury. But Polian’s problem was that his team lacked the depth and talent elsewhere and a backup plan when Manning went down. That’s something Polian himself has refused to admit.
When asked today at the NFL Scouting Combine what went wrong in his final, disastrous season in Indianapolis, Polian started by going back to the injury well:
“No. 1, don’t have injuries. And don’t have them in big bunches, either, specifically not the offensive line. And six starters on defense. You can’t overcome that. You don’t use injuries as an excuse or a crutch during the season, but when you lose, I think we lost nine starters, excluding Peyton for the bulk of the season, you can’t overcome that. That’s just the perfect storm.”
OK, he’s right about one thing. You probably can’t overcome the loss of Manning and, say, win a Super Bowl. Although some would love to point to what the Rams did without Trent Green in 1999 and what the Patriots did without Drew Bledsoe in 2001, those were clearly rare situations, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect Polian to have a Kurt Warner or Tom Brady waiting in the wings.
That said, the injury excuse doesn’t fly. And there’s a difference between failing to overcome and finishing with the worst record in all of football.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made history by losing a ridiculous 31 players and 10 starters to the injured reserve this season, and yet the Jags managed to win three more games than Indy did.
The New York Giants lost half a dozen key players by mid-season, and they went on to win the freakin’ Super Bowl.
In 2010, the Green Bay Packers led the NFC in man games lost and saw 16 players head to the IR in their Super Bowl season. The only team that lost more games from starters that year was Indianapolis — and the Colts still won the AFC South and made the playoffs.
The difference was Manning, and only Manning. The team, beyond Manning, hadn’t been special for years, if it ever was at all. They won it all despite a leaky defense and a mediocre running game in 2006, thanks to Manning and the offense. Nothing had changed since, until No. 18 lost his health.
But the headstrong Polian is finally acknowledging that his team wasn’t prepared in the slightest for a code red at quarterback. He continued:
“Secondly, from the backup quarterback standpoint, I’ve said all along, I thought that we probably, I probably could’ve done a better job of building up that position. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. We tried very hard once we knew that Peyton was going to be a long-term situation to try to make a deal for an established quarterback, but we couldn’t do it.”
“Trying” only gets you so far when you’re running the front office of a professional sports franchise. Polian swung and missed far too often to keep his job in Indy. It’s nice to see that, strongly and reluctantly, he’s coming to grips with that.