It wasn't always the case. Four years ago we backed into the playoffs based on a 1,700 yard season from 2.7 and a few lucky breaks. We were all so excited to play the Colts and prove we belonged there, because many pundits said we did not.
What happened that night? We got utterly humiliated as IND spent an entire game proving that we, in fact, did NOT belong out there with the soon-to-be Super Bowl champions. We gained 126 yards of TOTAL offense, while giving up 435. The 23-8 score did not reflect how thoroughly we got hammered.
Fast forward 4 years. We're coming off a 4-12 season, which followed a 2-14 season, which followed a 4-12 season. We've been a total and utter laughingstock for the last 3 years. Then suddenly we found ourselves 3-0.
While we basked in the Kool-Aid and talked about our remarkable draft class and unbelievable improvement on defense (thank you Romeo Crennel), we forgot where we came from. We were so busy marveling at how strong Glenn Dorsey was looking, or how consistent Derrick Johnson was playing. We were hypnotized by Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles, and in awe of the pipes Thomas Jones brought to the team. We were amazed at our offensive line's improvement (thank you for rewarding the faith Branden Albert), and we were enthralled by Brandon Flowers taking that next step towards being a shutdown corner.
And amidst all that Kool-Aid, all that (legitimate) improvement, we shut out (or dismissed) the fact that the rest of the football world was convinced that we didn't belong. We were flukes, the result of an easy schedule and a few lucky breaks. Our defense wasn't nearly as good as advertised, and we were lucky to have played San Diego in a tempest.
But our Day of Reckoning was coming. We were going to Indianapolis. Home of Peyton Manning and the AFC Champion Colts. Home of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, two of the best pass rushers in the league. Home of one of the most consistent and complete offenses in the league.
This, they said, would be our Downfall. This would be the game that would expose us, much like we were exposed four years ago. Our young secondary was going to get destroyed at the hands of the Master, and we'd be sent into Houston licking our wounds and revealed as a "rebuilding team" with "good potential but a long ways to go".
Instead, we went out and played ball with the Colts. As in our playoff loss 4 years ago, the scoreboard did not reflect how close the game was. Only this time, it was much closer than it looked.
Our defense hit. It hustled. Flowers shut down everyone near him. Tamba Hali took over an entire quarter of play and caused Peyton Manning to make some pretty bad throws. We had that team (and their home crowd) stunned and frustrated at how well we played them.
This was at Indianapolis, where the Colts are considered an almost impossible team to beat. This was with them coming off a loss and with their backs against the wall. We played a very talented, well-coached, well-led, disciplined team, and we took them down to the wire. We scared them.
We walked away the loser, and that always always ALWAYS stings. We have a lot to work on, especially on offense. But we are NOT that team from 2006. We went out there and put the gloves on against one of the biggest guys on the block. And what did we discover? Was it that we're a for-sure-playoff-bound team? Was it that we're awesome? Was it that we're a better team than the Colts? No, no, and no. But we did discover something else.
That we BELONGED out there in the ring with them. And considering where we're coming from, I'm more than happy with that.
We belong with the Big Boys, folks. We might not be one of Them yet, but we can get in there with them and make them bleed. Enjoy it, because we're 4 years removed from being shown in disgraceful fashion that we couldn't.