Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Studicus Selects 2013

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2013 picks):

Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

Best sports game mode from 2011. That's not a misprint. I'm talking about NBA 2K12's My Player mode. I'm obsessed with this game. I bought it at Gamestop (while also purchasing other past-their-sell-by-date games like Assassin's Creed II and Red Dead Redemption) during a buy 2, get 1 free deal and dove right in. I'm a 6'11" power forward for the Phoenix Suns. Kobe and the Lakers bounced us out of the playoffs last season. We shall write a different script for this season, Mr. Bryant. The Lakers shall burn.

Strangest gift given, meat category. Meat cards! After my brother-in-law sponsored a llama last year, I had to strike back somehow. My solution? A beef jerky "business card." I got one for each of my brothers-in-law. One thought it was the best Christmas present ever; the other simply thought it was weird. If you're ever looking for a unique gift sure to leave your loved ones scratching their heads or extolling your gift-giving prowess, go buy them Meat Cards! For years, we will have a family joke when someone opens a gift: "And it's made entirely of beef jerky!"

Newest Crimsonstreak book, sequel category. We went Crimsonstreaking again with II Crimsonstreak! Last year marked the release of my very first novel; this year marked the release of my very first sequel. The book ends with a cliffhanger--a decision that readers either love or loathe--and I'm hard at work on prepping III Crimsonstreak for submission so everyone knows what happened to Chris Fairborne and his family. I think it may include some time travel. Actually, I'm 100% sure that it does. I'll send it off to Candlemark & Gleam very soon.

Best television show, program I never thought I'd watch category. Breaking Bad is a show I never expected to like. Seriously, Tim Whatley is a cancer-stricken science teacher who decides to make meth to earn money for cancer treatments? No way. Not interested. Sounds completely absurd. People said it was great. I ignored them. They said the finale was incredible. My Twitter feed exploded during the "Ozymandias" and "Felina" episodes. I became intrigued and started watching it on Netflix. I shotgunned the series in about three weeks, and had to get "creative" to find the second half of the final season. What an incredible show...from the acting to the production and writing. I loved how Walter White and Jesse Pinkman couldn't get away from each other. I thought the final scene was absolutely incredible:

Fondest farewell, Little Muchacho. Our KIA Sportage was a fantastic little car. We miss the SUV affectionately known as "Little Muchacho." I eulogized him in this Facebook post from July:
Today we honor the 2000 KIA Sportage my wife and I called Little Muchacho, a car that "just kept running" past the 200,000-mile mark. He began his life driven primarily by my father-in-law on sales trips around the state before spending the last half of his life as Anne's trusty sidekick.

I had just spent the day with him Sunday, when we stopped for breakfast at Hardee's before catching a morning matinee of "Man of Steel." I filled his tank and put air in his tires, and all seemed to be fine. Last night, his engine stopped for good.

Anne promised to replace him with another KIA, so we bought a KIA Forte last night.

It's hard to say goodbye, but here's to you, Little Muchacho:

Biggest acquisition, family category. And so my wife and I welcomed a new car into the family. With Little Muchacho's passing came the arrival of this KIA Forte. Anne was reluctant to warm up to him, but she's given him the nickname "the Blue Bandit," so we're getting there. The car gets awesome mileage and offers a smooth ride along with some cool extras like Bluetooth phone connectivity and steering wheel buttons that allow you to adjust the radio volume.

Favorite Twitter non-trend, Colts category. I'm a dedicated Colts fan, and I've been a huge supporter of Griff Whalen since the team signed him last season. He was sidelined by a foot injury and missed last year. In this year's campaign, he's been moved to the practice squad and elevated to the main roster approximately 8,000 times. But while some fans call him "Griffer," I prefer to call him GRIFFNATION. Will you join GRIFFNATION? Will you?

Most bittersweet homecoming, NFL legend category. After Peyton Manning's release, some Colts fans suddenly became lifelong Denver Broncos fans. That's fine for them. That's not how I roll. Look, I loved Peyton. Only the most stubborn fans can fail to see how there was no real way for the team to keep him and put together a well-rounded football team. It was a move they had to make given questions about his health and (the really big factor) his gigantic contract. That doesn't mean I love Peyton any less; he's a legend and I want him to win.

His return to Indianapolis couldn't possibly live up to the hype, could it? A Sunday Night Football game at Lucas Oil Stadium against his old team and the guy who replaced him? What we ended up getting was a classic, with Peyton and the Broncos jumping out to a quick lead and the Colts systematically dismantling Denver to build a huge lead in the second half. Then, in classic Peyton Manning fashion, he nearly pulled off an improbable comeback.

For me, the best moment was just before the game, when the Colts showed a video tribute to the beloved QB and the crowd gave him the most heartfelt cheer anyone's ever gotten in all of sports. Peyton got a little misty eyed; I did, too. It's one of those things I'll never forget. It was the fans' way of saying, "We'll never forget you, No. 18. We love you and we didn't get to say goodbye."

A perfect moment.

Best post about a scuttled video game studio. LucasArts had to shut down this year. I grew up playing countless LucasArts games and gave the fallen studio my own little love letter. It was one of my most popular posts of the year. Star Wars games by LucasArts dominated almost every era of video gaming for me, from the NES to the Xbox 360 and all my consoles in between.

Best movie I liked that no one else did, superhero category. I adored Man of Steel. I didn't get the common reaction that the movie was "cold and lifeless" or that it's "the movie where Superman murders everyone." People commonly said things like "that's not MY Superman," and I think they missed the point. It's not your Superman, and it's not supposed to be. This was a portrait of a man who isolated himself from society and didn't know how to handle his own gifts. While he wore the S-shield, he's not Superman yet. I'll give the filmmakers credit because they've given Superman room to grow and to learn from his mistakes (we're hoping DC/Warner Bros. can do the same thing, but...you know there's this website). I also thought Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Kevin Costner were terrific in supporting roles. Maybe it was my Midwestern upbringing talking here, but I felt a connection to Clark and his childhood in Kansas.

Best internet/Twitter freakout, movie casting category. Ben Affleck is the next Batman. People called him Batfleck. I called him Batben. Batfleck won. But the real winners were those of us who watched the internet burn and contributed things like this:

Most inept attempt at a homegrown internet meme, presidential surfing category. My wife volunteers at the Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis. Harrison is the only U.S. president from Indiana. One day, she blessed us with the following gem on Facebook about her experience with a group of touring students:
Had a group of 2nd graders at Harrison Home today. When I took questions at the end of the tour, one little girl raised her hand.

"You said Mr. Harrison passed away after being sick. What does that mean? Where did he go?"

I have to admit, I was at a loss for words. How do you answer this question in an appropriate manner to a public school kid without bringing your personal beliefs into it or scaring the kid. My saving grace was one of her classmates, who chimed in with this tid bit:

"When my grandpa 'passed away' my Mom said he went to visit my Uncle in Colorado, but I didn't believe her, cause my Grandpa didn't like my Uncle Rob. I think he's in Hawaii surfing and I'm going to visit him there someday."

Then he turns to me, "That's probably where Mr Harrison is, too, right?"

Thank God, Roger came in right then and said that bus was there, otherwise I might have found myself saying, "Yes, Mr. Harrison is catching waves and rays in Hawaii." lol!
And, lo, did Benjamin Harrison surf:

I usually play this post for laughs, but I also have some serious business to attend to.

I gained a sister-in-law. It was a lovely August wedding in which she married my brother-in-law. I think this photo says it all:

Last, but certainly not least, I want to remember a few people we lost this year.

Grandpa Riley. My grandfather passed away in March. It was unexpected. My grandparents live in Tennessee and I don't see them but a few times a year. Still, they were an important part of my life and were always interested in what my brother and I were doing. I remember Grandpa visited us when I was playing in a fall baseball league and I had the best game of my life at the plate. He also witnessed the infamous game in which I, a first baseman, got called for a balk in a nebulous umpire ruling that remains incomprehensible to this day. Going down to Tennessee to say goodbye was hard for the whole family, especially after we heard his back surgery had gone okay. Gene Riley was many things to all of us, but we'll remember him best for being a great man who was the rock of our entire family. I don't think his passing really hit until we went down to the annual family reunion in July and he wasn't there. Find his obituary here.

Jim Ladd. Jim Ladd was a good friend of my grandfather, and it seems fitting that they both passed in the same year. For several years, I had a paper route in Williamsburg, Indiana, and Jim was one of my customers. We had a fun little rivalry while I was a paperboy. At one time, Jim raised exotic animals. I had my brother call him and tell him that the FBI was investigating him for improper licensing, and Jim bought it hook, line, and sinker until I came to his door in a trench coat. He knew he'd been had. Things escalated from there, with Jim posting my face all over the local post office for "impersonating a paperboy" (he claimed he never saw me deliver a single newspaper). I also once made a mockup of the front page of the local paper (the Palladium-Item) in which the cover story was about an animal scam Jim was running. When I delivered the paper to him, he was talking to a couple people about some emus, and I remember his eyes got big as dinner plates when he saw the fake headline and quickly tucked the paper away. Find his obituary here.

Mike Ryan. If two polar opposites ever coached baseball together, it would be my father and Mike Ryan. My father was quiet, reserved, and never yelled at his players. Mike was fiery, opinionated, and always yelled at his players! He coached me for several years in youth league, where he uncorked a few gems. When a player would recoil at an incoming baseball, Mike would yell, "You're ten times bigger than that ball! That ball can't hurt you!" That maxim remained true until Mike got belted in the side by a foul ball. As he walked around in pain, my father reminded him that he's "ten times bigger than that ball," and Mike wasn't very appreciative of the gesture. I also quote him often when something goes wrong. "Ain't nobody hurt, ain't nobody hurt," Mike would say when someone made an error or a mistake. Find his obituary here.

These three men helped guide and shape me throughout my life, and I will certainly miss them.

On that note...here's to a great 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 17 vs. Jaguars

20 points. That's how many points the Colts defense has given up over the last three games (vs. Texans, vs. Chiefs, vs. Jaguars). Had it not been for a true garbage time touchdown by the Jags, the Colts would've surrendered just 13 points over a three-game span. To put it in perspective, consider how the Colts gave up 38+ points in three games this year (38 vs. Rams, 40 vs. Cardinals, and 42 vs. Bengals).

17 points. That's how many points the Colts scored in the first quarter this week. It's in stark contrast to the losses mentioned above, when the Colts failed to muster a touchdown in the first quarter (they scored a field goal in the first quarter of the Cardinals game).

1,083 yards. T.Y. Hilton had a monster game, catching a career high 11 passes for 155 yards. He also finished the season with 1,000+ yards for the first time in his career. During the current three-game winning streak, Hilton caught 24 balls for 285 yards. The Colts offense worked itself into an awful funk after losing Reggie Wayne, and other teams focused on keeping the ball away from Hilton. The Colts made adjustments and emphasized getting the rock to No. 13.

And why didn't you do that earlier? The Colts came into the season hoping to pound the ball. They kept pounding. And pounding. And pounding. It was like hitting your head repeatedly against a wall after Reggie Wayne went down. They finally adjusted, running more spread looks with an uptempo pace. Since the second half of the Bengals game, the Colts offense has looked completely different.

GRIFFNAAAAAAATION! Another touchdown for Griff Whalen this week, who has found the endzone twice in the last three games. He didn't have a great game--just 4 catches for 32 yards--but he has emerged as a reliable target. Why Matt Hasselbeck tried to kill him with a pass over the middle in the fourth quarter is anyone's guess. That could've been a scary play.

Two more sacks. Robert Mathis further cemented the best year of his career with a pair of sacks against the Jags. He finished the season with 19.5 sacks and should get consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. He is the Colts' lone Pro Bowl representative.

Early turnover. The Colts forced an early fumble by Maurice Jones-Drew, a play that set the tone for the game. Was it a fumble? Was the ball out before his forearm hit the ground? I have no idea. I half expected the officials to award the Jaguars a touchdown out of spite, given the Colts' recent bad luck with official reviews.

Another big game. After putting together a phenomenal game last week, Jerrell Freeman had another great week, finishing with 8 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, 2 passes defensed, and a pair of QB hits. He was, again, everywhere.

Solid Butler. Darius Butler recovered a fumble and finished with 8 tackles. It seems like this guy's always around the ball. Over the last three weeks, he's been a big part of the defense's resurgence.

Some injuries. The Colts had something to play for this week with the possibility of improving their seeding in the AFC playoff picture. No resting this time. No "build a lead and throw in Painter." Still, starting the regulars has its risks. Vontae Davis left the game with a groin injury. Bjoern Werner and Aubrayo Franklin also left after getting hurt. I hope the injuries weren't serious.

The running game. It was far from spectacular, as the Colts finished with just 80 yards on 28 carries (a 2.8 average). Both Donald Brown and Trent Richardson had rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. ODDITY ALERT: Richardson had a better average than Brown (3.1 vs. 2.6) .

The turnover battle. The Colts forced two turnovers: a fumble by MJD and an interception of Chad Henne by Antoine Bethea. The interception came at a key point late in the second quarter. If the Jags scored on the drive, it would've been a 17-10 ballgame. Instead, Bethea picked off the pass and the Colts drove down for a late field goal to make it 20-3 at halftime. Big swing there.

Air Donald. Loved Donald Brown's fearless plunge into the endzone on the Colts' first possession. He wasn't going to let anyone keep him out.

Going for it. Chuck Pagano showed, for better or worse, that he's willing to roll the dice. The Colts clearly wanted to put this one out of reach early, so on fourth and goal from the two, they went for it. Trent Richardson powered his way to the score with some good blocking from the offensive line.

Better protection. The Colts' switch to a spread/short passing/uptempo offensive philosophy has paid off. Even with constant juggling of the offensive line, Luck has been sacked three times in four games. Think about this: in a three-game span that included games against the Texans, Rams, and Titans, the Colts gave up 12 sacks (they managed to win two of those three games, despite surrendering five sacks to the Titans).

Efficient day. Andrew Luck wasn't flashy; he hardly ever is. Still, he completed 70% of his passes and threw for 282 yards and a TD to Griff Whalen. He had a couple close calls--including one in which he tried to squeeze an endzone pass for Hilton between two defenders--but took advantage of great field position and seemed to find Hilton whenever he needed a third down conversion. The Colts were 8-16 on third down.

Playoff momentum. It's up in the air who the Colts will play as of this writing, but Indy definitely has some momentum going into the postseason. They're looking more like the team that started the season than the win one/lose one team that started games slow and couldn't find any offensive rhythm. The only thing that gives me pause is that the competition hasn't been stellar. The Texans (2-14) cashed it in weeks ago and the Jags (4-12), while much improved from the week four meeting, aren't very talented. Only the Chiefs had a winning record. We'll see how it all plays out next week.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 16 vs. Chiefs

Big win. The Colts needed this one, a quality win on the road against a good football team. They showed us some of the things that had been sorely lacking during an up-and-down stretch of games after the Denver win. We saw the dominating defense and a versatile offense that could move the ball. The offensive line held up well (especially in pass protection).

Turnover battle. The Kansas City Chiefs came into the game +21 in turnover margin. They left the game +17 (-4 vs. Indy). The Colts forced four turnovers: two fumbles and two interceptions. They took care of the ball on their end.

Rough start. The Colts didn't get off to an ideal start. They went three and out on offense after failing to convert a short run on third down. They gave up a 25-yard punt return to the dangerous Dexter McCluster. The defense then proceeded to surrender a 31-yard touchdown run to Jamaal "Two A's are better than one" Charles. Then, another three and out. After they stopped KC, Adam Vinatieri missed a 34-yard field goal. Again, Adam Vinatieri missed a 34-yard field goal. But then...

They got back on track. The defense forced another KC punt, the Colts put together a drive in which Vinatieri nailed a 46-yard field goal, and then Robert Mathis (or maybe Jerrell Freeman...it's hard to tell) forced a fumble by Knile Davis. The turnover took the crowd out of the game and completely turned things around. From that point forward, the Colts completely dominated, shutting down the Chiefs offense and dominating time of possession. Seriously, the Colts held a 38:20 to 21:40 advantage in time of possession.

And they should've had another turnover. Late in the second quarter, Junior Hemingway "caught" a pass and then "fumbled" it. The officials ruled he never controlled the ball (incomplete pass). At first blush, I thought that was the case. Then I saw a replay. Hemingway caught the ball, tucked it away, and took several strides before the Colts jarred the ball loose. This is clear from the review. The officials, on the other hand, let the play stand as called. So instead of another turnover, the Chiefs had a chance to score a field goal (although they ended up missing it).

After the embarrassing blown call in the Bengals game ("The Phantom Touchdown"), I'd like to hear an explanation for this one.

Fortunately, officiating guru Mike Pereira said the following on Twitter:

Wait. I should've specified that I wanted a good explanation. I should've clarified that. If "in real time, you have to stay with the call," then WHY ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH DO WE HAVE INSTANT REPLAY?

Ahem. The Colts ended up being the beneficiary of a couple of calls (including a taunting penalty that kept a drive alive), which I can only say must be a karmic offsetting of this idiocy. I think it's safe to say NFL officials have had a very, very bad year. Who thought things would get worse after TOUCHCEPTION last year?

O Canada. Jerrell Freeman isn't from Canada, but he played in the CFL. Anyway, he was a beast Sunday. He was "only" credited with five tackles, but he had a sack, a QB hit, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and two interceptions. One of those interceptions came right at the goal line, killing any chance the Chiefs had for a late rally. He has to be the defensive player of the week.

Look there, a pass rush! The Colts harassed Alex Smith all day, finishing with four sacks. Freeman, Ricardo Matthews (0.5 sacks), Fili Moala (0.5 sacks), Cory Redding, and Bjoern Werner all sacked Smith at Arrowhead. It was great to see the interior of the defense create pressure. It's something we haven't seen much this season.

Nothing secondary about it. The Colts were terrific in pass coverage. KC lacks star power in the receiving corps, but Smith is an underrated passer who plays behind a good offensive line. Vontae Davis and company had a fantastic game in coverage. Josh Gordy kept tight coverage on a pass that would've resulted in a touchdown. They were physical and wouldn't let the Chiefs run free downfield. Because passing windows were tight and/or took long to develop, it helped the defensive line feast on Smith.

Bethea brings the lumber. I've heard rumbles that Antoine Bethea is losing it. While he's certainly been beaten a few times in pass coverage, he can still lay the lumber over the middle. He delivered a couple big hits Sunday that rattled my teeth. He helped set the tone on defense, for sure.

Bad, Bad Donald Brown. Sometimes "bad" is good, right? That's definitely the case here. Donald Brown provided two big plays that resulted in touchdowns: a 33-yard reception and a 51-yard run. Both were worthy of the highlight reel, even though the run was the real showstopper.

Here's a GIF courtesy of GIFD Sports:

Richardson Watch. 16 carries, 43 yards (2.7 YPC). 3 receptions, 15 yards. Clearly, Brown was the more productive back (as usual). Still, Richardson was out there in short yardage situations and toward the end of the game as the Colts tried to grind down the clock. I think he's finally settling in, but he's not a threat to break huge runs like Brown. He also picked up a crucial conversion on a fourth down play in the second quarter.

GRIFFNATION! Shame on the Colts for cutting, re-signing, cutting, and re-signing Griff Whalen. While their woes without Reggie Wayne will never disappear, Whalen is a reliable target who makes plays. He led the Colts in receiving (seven catches for 80 yards) and was the go-to guy on third down. He needs to stay on the field. My favorite was the one in which Whalen made two KC defenders collide before scampering for a first down. While we suffered through weeks with David Reed and Darrius Heyward-Bey sucking it big time, GRIFFNATION was reserved to the practice squad. PLAY HIM.

And speaking of DHB... I do hope something good happens to Darrius Heyward-Bey one of these days. He made a couple big special teams plays, dropping McCluster on a punt return and downing a punt at the 5-yard line. It takes a certain type of guy to have his role severely diminished on offense only to suck it up and shine on special teams. DHB, apparently, is that type of guy.

He really read the green well there on the chip shot. Pat McAfee tackled a guy this week. He also had an awesome golf-inspired celebration after pinning the Chiefs deep in their own territory:

Great adjustment. Andrew Luck found T.Y. Hilton as wide open as he'll ever be. Facing pressure, Luck lofted the ball to Hilton, who made a great adjustment and reeled it in for a 31-yard reception.

Playoffs? Playoffs! The Colts are in (they were in after the Broncos beat the Titans in Week 14). They're not yet locked into a seed as of this writing.

And it's worth mentioning... I still love Peyton Manning. If you were a Colts fan at any time, you want No. 18 to do well. I'm glad to see him take back the single-season TD record. Fittingly, it came against the Texans. Poor, poor Texans.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 15 vs. Texans

A first half to be proud of...finally. After several lackluster first-half efforts since the loss of Reggie Wayne, the Colts put together an actual first half with scoring and everything! They looked terrific on their first drive, converting a couple of short third down opportunities on their way to a TD pass from Andrew Luck to Griff Whalen. The Colts spread the field and went no-huddle on the drive, something fans have been screaming for, for weeks. You wanna be a power run team? Fine. Get the pieces and make it effective. When it's clearly not working, you have to make a change. Glad to see it.

GRIFFNATION! I thought Whalen was a guy who could provide a spark for the Colts. His numbers weren't jaw-dropping: 4 catches for 45 yards and 3 punt returns for 67 yards. Still, he gave the Colts some plays they sorely needed, including a TD grab and a 51-yard punt return that set up a field goal. Look, I know Whalen isn't going to physically dominate anyone. I know he's not the Flash out there. I get it. I still think it's worth having him out there as a third or fourth receiver because he has good hands and is someone Luck won't hesitate to throw it to.

A good win, but... The cynic in me has to come out on this win at least a little bit. While it was good to see the Colts put together a good all-around performance (and their best game since the win vs. Denver), we have to remember it came against a Texans team that hasn't won a game since September. The Texans have lost 12 games in a row and have never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis (not even during the Kerry Collins-Curtis Painter-Dan Orlovsky "Era!"). They've fired their coach and are inexplicably in line for the top pick in the draft. Despite the many great pieces on this team--Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, etc.--they were listless and terrible. I do think the Colts played with some extra fire, but it's hard to gauge this win. A truer test will be next week against Kansas City.

A day of firsts. GRIFFNATION caught his first career TD pass. Bjoern Werner notched his first (full) career sack. Trent Richardson caught his first TD pass as an Indianapolis Colt. Antoine Bethea downed Case Keenum for his first sack of the year. The Colts got contributions from guys when they sorely needed to build some momentum toward the postseason.

Darius Butler. Remember Case Keenum's first start against the Colts when he threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns? Well, that didn't happen this week. The Colts made Keenum look purely pedestrian, although that's been pretty much the norm for him over the last five games (2 touchdowns, 6 interceptions over that span). They hurried and harassed him, and no one dogged him more than Darius Butler, who picked off two of Keenum's passes and darn near had a third that would've been a pick six. The Colts secondary was physical and stingy overall, and Butler was a major factor in that. He was also credited with three passes defensed.

Trent Richardson. I'm not ready to pop the champagne here. But after a decent game last week, Richardson built on that against the Texans. He had a couple big catches and broke a couple runs. The consistency isn't there yet (well, I guess it is, since we're all used to a good one-, two-yard plunge into the line of scrimmage...), but I saw some potential there. Tough running, evasiveness, more decisiveness. It wasn't there on every play...he still got buried plenty of times. Still, there was something positive to take away from this game when it comes to Richardson, and I'll take it.

DHB on special teams. The Colts pretty much conceded that DHB was a bust when they handed Da'Rick Rogers playing time. They further diminished DHB's role this week, when I saw him play on special teams. I think he was out on the field in some passing formations, but his role was severely limited. The Colts went primarily with T.Y. Hilton (who had his best game in weeks), Rogers, and Griff Whalen in the receiving corps. We also saw a good bit of Jack Doyle and Weslye Saunders as second tight ends/fill-ins for the injured Stanley Havili.

Better line play. Without really scrutinizing the game, I think the line play was better for the Colts. The unit seems to perform better with Mike McGlynn at center (instead of Samson Satele at center with McGlynn at guard). Joe Reitz started in McGlynn's usual guard spot, but ended up leaving the game with an injury. Xavier Nixon stepped in and seemed to play well. Luck was hit less this week (and Pep Hamilton rolled him out several times) and seemed to have a solid pocket for most of the game. He was sacked one time.

Pressure! The Colts called a very aggressive game on defense. They brought in Bethea on a couple of safety blitzes and generally did a good job of putting heat on Keenum. Bjoern Werner came in unblocked for a sack while Erik Walden, Cory Redding, and Bethea also had sacks. The Colts were in Keenum's face all day, sacking him four times and hitting him eight.

Fake punt? Double reverse? The Colts tried some different things this week, including an odd fake punt near midfield and a double reverse that gained nothing. I liked how the team tried to change things up a couple times. With their playoff position assured, they're trying to work out the kinks before the postseason.

Speaking of the playoffs... The Colts are the fourth seed right now, but losses from the Patriots and the Bengals opened the door for the Colts to get the second or third seed. The former isn't likely to happen, but if they could climb to the third spot, they'd host the last team to get into the playoffs instead of Kansas City or Denver.

Second half coma. The Colts were not very exciting in the second half, but they didn't have to be. We saw some good things from Richardson after Donald Brown left the game with a stinger. The defense was rock-solid, so no complaints there. I'd prefer that the Colts had a more efficient second half on offense (they were abysmal in third down situations and produced only a field goal thanks to a punt return by Whalen and a safety from...the defense).

Da'Rick Rogers, week 2. Not a whole lot to say about Rogers in his second week. He caught a pair of passes for 23 yards and ran once for no gain. He wasn't likely to have a big game after last week, but a lot of fans wanted more. By the way, Coby Fleener was only targeted once this week and finished without a single catch.

T.Y. Hilton. The first pass of the game went to T.Y., and it was clear the Colts figured him into their game plan this week. He had a fantastic grab on a 41-yard catch and dropped a ball that looked like it would've gone for a long way. He finished with eight catches for 78 yards.

Saving the best for last. Fans should take the time to enjoy watching Robert Mathis. He set the franchise's single-season and career sack marks when he blindsided Keenum for a signature sack-fumble that resulted in a safety. The play recalled Mathis' sack-fumble-safety of Peyton Manning in the Broncos game. Many are making the case for Mathis as Defensive Player of the Year, and he certainly has my (non-existent) vote.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 14 vs. Bengals

Peyton wins the AFC South...again. Peyton Manning put this team on his shoulders and delivered another trademark performance, beating AFC South rival Tennessee for another division title. The headline could've come from pretty much any season from 2002 through 2010, though a few things have changed since then. Like, Peyton plays for the Broncos now.

The Colts just sucked less than the other teams. The Houston Texans imploded. The Titans are mediocre. The Jaguars managed to win four more games than anyone thought possible. Basically, the Colts play in a weak division and got off to a great start...that's the sole reason they've "won" a division title. Would've been nice to clinch it on their own, but I guess it still counts. Kind of.

Flat. Do the Colts eat Thanksgiving dinner before the games start? Their putrid offensive and defensive performances to start the last several games have been absolutely embarrassing. It's like they take a nap in the first half to rest up for the second half. Clearly, the team has no idea why this is happening and has done nothing to stop it. I'd suggest upping the tempo on offense right out of the gate and playing with a sense of urgency. Just a thought.

They hang their hat on defense! The Chuck Pagano Era will hang its hat on defense. No more of this "soft" defense and "finesse" offense. Yet, the Colts defense has been terrible since the Denver game. Vontae Davis is part of a balanced breakfast every week (toast). Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn are defensive holding penalties just waiting to happen. Even if you gave him a bed sheet, LaRon Landry couldn't cover anything. The usually reliable Antoine Bethea has struggled as well. But it's not all on the secondary...you can't ask guys to keep covering receivers while the quarterback sits in a clean pocket and grabs a Kindle to read a few pages before finding a wide open receiver. No pass rush = crappy secondary play. It's a vicious cycle of dysfunctional parts.

You're fired, Kelvin Sheppard. The Outstanding Moron Award this week goes to Kelvin Sheppard, who buried Marvin Jones for a three-yard loss on a running play and then decided to taunt him, a display of pure unadulterated machismo that cost the Colts 15 yards and swung the momentum at a key point in the game. The Bengals ended up scoring on the drive to go ahead 35-14. Taunting your opponent is stupid when you're down by two touchdowns; even dumber when said penalty pushes that lead to three touchdowns.

And then LaRon Landry ripped off a guy's helmet. You can, in fact, tackle guys without ripping off their helmets. I've seen it happen. It strikes me that Landry is Bob Sanders without the likability. I keep hearing announcers tell me how much he affects a game, yet the Colts defense keeps surrendering points. So, what's the deal with this guy?

Jeff Triplette either has X-ray vision or he's an idiot. Look, if BenJarvus-Green-Ellis-Cumberbatch's plunge into the endzone is originally ruled a touchdown and the referee reverses it when there aren't really any definitive camera angles, that would be wrong. It is then equally wrong for the ruling of down by contact to be reversed when there is no clear video evidence that he was not touched. The NFL uses the phrase "indisputable video evidence" all the time. Did I see a definitive angle showing me that Josh Chapman got a paw on the runner's foot? Kind of (later still shots were much more definitive than the actual video). Did I see a definitive angle showing me that he didn't touch the runner's foot? Absolutely not. The call should have stood as ruled on the field. I would say this even if this call went the other way (i.e., a touchdown is ruled originally and then called back).

This was an egregious example of an official failing to follow the league's own mandates. There is nothing on the tape showing, with 100% clarity, that Green-Ellis stumbled on his own. He was ruled down by contact, and it should've remained down by contact. I don't think the call made that huge of a difference--Andy Dalton and the Bengals scored at will on the Colts--but it was flat-out wrong. Shockingly, mind-numbingly wrong. Triplette deserves a suspension for that call and his crew's blunder in the Washington game last week. Or, as Boomer "Mr. Bengal" Esiason, suggested, perhaps Triplette should be permanently relieved of his duties.

Trent Richardson watch. He carried six times for 20 yards, including an eight-yard (!) run. Still, the average was his pedestrian 3.3 YPC. He was active in the passing game! In garbage time! Actually, I thought he had his best game as a Colt, even though that's like saying this guy had his best day as a henchman:

The new receivers. While the game provided few positives, at least Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill showed something. With a couple of big, tackle-breaking receptions, they nearly got the Colts back into the game. Neither can replace Reggie Wayne (DUH!), but together, they just might supplant Darrius Heyward-Bey. Hell, Rogers had more touchdowns in his one game than DHB has all season. Chew on that. Speaking of which...

And you shall be known as Featherstone. After seeing DHB let another one go right through his hands, I'm reminded of the great Featherstone from Necessary Roughness. I think the character was actually based on the Colts receiver. Check out the Featherstone montage about 50 seconds in:

300+ yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions. Andrew Luck's day looked good on paper. It was awful to watch on TV. Oh, he was also the team's leading rusher--the team with the power running game, mind you--with 32 yards.

They ruled third down. The Colts were 2-10 on third down conversions. That's...um...not good.

Limping to the finish. This is exactly what the Colts are doing. Unless they turn it around in the three remaining games (in all phases), expect a quick exit. They're just not talented enough to go very far if they're going to play like this week in and week out (which they have since Wayne went down).

But please remember... This team is two seasons removed from 2-14 and shocked everyone at 11-5 last year. Despite the many free agent acquisitions, it was going to be tough for the Colts to match last season. Their quick start tantalized us, giving us a glimpse of what the team could be. Sadly, that appears to be an illusion.

Antoine Bethea had 17 tackles. I complained about the secondary plenty earlier. But if Bethea finishes with 17 tackles, that means the Colts aren't stopping the run, they're losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, and the linebackers aren't getting off their blocks. Landry finished with nine tackles. That's a lot of tackles for your safeties--never a good thing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 13 vs. Titans

Division within reach. Barring an epic collapse, the Colts will win the AFC South. They have a three-game lead over the Titans and hold the tiebreaker. Essentially, the Colts would have to lose their last four games and the Titans would have to sweep their last four for the Colts to miss out on a division title.

Vintage "Money." Adam Vinatieri nailed five field goals for the Colts (with a long of 49 yards). On a day when the offense stalled repeatedly, the Colts needed Vinatieri to come through, and he did. He's having a fantastic season.

The turnover battle. The Colts forced four turnovers: three interceptions and a fumble (all from Ryan Fitzpatrick). Cassius Vaughn--relegated to third cornerback after a couple rough starts in place of Greg Toler--picked off two passes. Indy turned the ball over early in the game after a pass from Andrew Luck went off T.Y. Hilton's hands and bounced into the hands of a waiting Titans defender. The Colts defense forced a punt.

Thank you, Jerrell Freeman. The linebacker was all over the place Sunday, finishing with nine tackles and asked to cover Chris Johnson when Tennessee split their running back out wide a few times. He saved his best play for last, picking off a Fitzpatrick pass as the Titans tried to rally for a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game to OT. Freeman also recovered a fumble after a sack by Robert Mathis.

Why is Darrius Heyward-Bey a professional football player for the Indianapolis Colts? Hey, it worked last week with David Reed. DHB drew a couple pass interference penalties and caught a pass for 23 yards. Those were his good things. He also got buried for an 11-yard loss on an ill-advised running play, was whistled for offensive pass interference (in his defense, the call was iffy), and--in glorious DHB style--dropped a pass that killed a potential touchdown drive. Sigh.

Donald Brown gets the start. Honestly, he should've started last week on the heels of his great second half against this same Tennessee team. He didn't do much until the last drive, finishing with a relatively unimpressive 14 carries for 54 yards and a TD. The key is when the bulk of those yards came--Brown had 46 yards on the game-clinching drive.

Luck uses his legs. His offensive line can't protect him. His receivers can't get open, and when they do, they drop passes. Luck showed that extra dimension he can bring to the offense when he scrambled for 32 yards on the last drive. He was the team's second-leading rusher, scrambling five times for 42 yards.

Still can't Protect the Franchise. The Colts offensive line is abysmal. Luck got dropped five times; there was an occasion or two in which he held onto the ball too long, but most of this goes on the offensive line. What does this tell us? Despite opening the checkbook and making big moves, the Colts and GM Ryan Grigson failed in their primary mission to protect Andrew Luck. Swapping out Mike McGlynn for Jeff Linkenbach didn't make a noticeable difference.

Richardson demoted. It just hasn't worked out. The Colts made a splash by pulling the trigger on the Richardson trade, and I don't think the "jury is still out" on this one. The Colts have gotten about as much from this former first-round pick as they could've gotten out of a guy from the scout team at the cost of next year's first-round pick. It's expensive mediocrity, even though I'd really like to see him prove me wrong. Earlier, it looked like Donald Brown was being successful because the Colts ran him in certain situations (and with more spread formations). Lately, though, Brown has hit the hole hard in the power formations and found success.

Time to unleash Da'Rick Rogers. Since the Colts are getting nothing from DHB, it's time to give Da'Rick Rogers more playing time. Even though DHB "knows the offense," it doesn't matter because he's not a reliable target. Rogers may suck; I have no idea. But the truth is that he can't hurt the team anymore than DHB. And maybe, just maybe, he'll find himself in the right place and catch the football.

Goal line stand. The Colts stiffened when the Titans tried to get the ball into the endzone from the two. They stuffed Tennessee three times before a little gimmick/misdirection pass resulted in a touchdown. By the way, when you watch that play at regular speed, it kind of looks like Chris Johnson dropped the ball and "didn't complete the catch." It looks a lot different on the replay.

Robert Mathis: Master of the Sack-Fumble. Robert Mathis is having a season for the ages. The Colts pass rush didn't do much Sunday, but Mathis forced a sack-fumble after getting around the edge and knocking the ball away from Fitzpatrick. The Colts ended up salvaging a field goal from the drive.

Your free gift: three points! As time wound down in the first half, the Titans' Moise Fokou (a former Colt) decided to level Stanley Havili. If he'd kept his cool, the half would've ended because T.Y. Hilton caught a pass in bounds and the Colts were out of timeouts. Instead, the idiotic penalty put the Colts in prime position for a field goal.

Return change. With David Reed gone, the Colts turned the return game over to Chris Rainey, who handled both kickoffs and punts. He wasn't measurably more effective than Reed on kickoffs. Rainey filled in on punts for T.Y. Hilton and turned in a nice return for 18 yards. On the flip side, he also muffed a punt return. Thankfully, special teams standout Sergio Brown was there to recover and advance. Brown has quietly had a fantastic season in the third phase of the game.

Ain'tcha ever comin' back, ain'tcha? What's the deal with Greg Toler? The Colts haven't put him on injured reserve and he's been "trending in the right direction" for approximately forever now. The secondary hasn't been the same since Toler's been out. I hope he returns to the lineup soon, because I could think of a few positions that could use that roster spot.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 12 vs. Cardinals

Basically, take my Week 10 Observations vs. the Rams and put it on Arizona time.

Beyond slow starts. The problems with this team go beyond the slow starts. Neither the offense nor the defense can get much traction. The defense can't get stops, the offense can't answer, the defense falters again, ditto the offense. It's a vicious cycle that continues to repeat.

No running game. The Colts lacked any semblance of a running game although it's really impossible to gauge it because they fell so far behind so quickly that the team was relegated to letting Andrew Luck get killed in the pocket. Trent Richardson did have that eight-yard run, so "he's arrived."

Where have you gone, Vontae Davis? The most puzzling thing over the last several games has been the complete and utter collapse of the secondary. During the first part of the season, Vontae Davis looked like an All Pro. Now he's just burnt toast week in and week out. Could Greg Toler's injury have that big of an impact on the whole secondary? It's hard to say, but they haven't been the same since he went down. Davis also suffered a groin injury in the second half.

Samson Satele caught a pass. That's one more than David Reed. Speaking of which...

Why is David Reed a professional football player for the Indianapolis Colts? This guy shows nothing. His kickoff return judgment was better this week, but the Colts went with only four active receivers (T.Y. Hilton, Lavon Brazill, Darrius Heyward-Stonehands, and Reed). Reed showed nothing. Don't ask me why the Colts elevated Da'Rick Rogers to the roster, sent Griff Whalen to the practice squad, and signed Chris Rainey as a return guy so we could have approximately 85 tight ends, use Reed as a kickoff returner and useless fourth receiver, and make Rogers and Rainey game day inactives. Seriously, don't ask me because I don't have the answer.

Sergio Brown had some fun. The Colts' special teams ace blocked a field goal when the game was actually a game and pushed a Cardinals player into his own return guy, which was kind of funny.

Robert Mathis sacked Carson Palmer. Mathis now has 14.5 sacks on the season after a sack-and-strip on Palmer (that's a career high). Because no one else got any penetration, there were about 85 Cardinals around to recover the fumble. I like the number 85 for some reason today.

Ricky Jean Francois showed up. This is notable only because no one else did. Jean Francois finished with a pair of sacks and thrilled us all with an overly enthusiastic celebratory dance while his team was down by about 85 points.

67-44. This is a statistical category the Colts actually won: their number of tackles (67) compared to the Cardinals' (44).

71-55. And this is why the Colts had so many tackles: the Cardinals ran 71 offensive plays to the Colts' 55. The time of possession, by the way, favored the Cardinals (36:49 to 23:11).

The game was over when... Well, pretty much when the Cardinals scored their first touchdown. Any hopes of a miraculous comeback vanished when the Colts failed to muster any points on their opening drive of the second half. Look, I knew they weren't coming back, and you knew they weren't coming back, but that's the point that sealed it.

Rally sons of Notre Dame... Michael Floyd had 7 catches for 104 yards. Nice to see a Golden Domer playing well. Not as nice to see it happen against the Colts.

Coby Fleener caught a touchdown. Luck targeted him 8 times. Fleener caught 4 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. He was also the target on the ill-advised pass that led to a Cardinals TD return.

Get up, T.Y. Get up! T.Y. Hilton was down for several minutes after diving for a pass. He eventually returned.

7-4. The Colts still control the AFC South and can cement their place by beating the Titans next week at home. I have no idea which team will show up, but the Colts team that beat the 49ers is a distant memory.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A personal history of gaming

It's time for another console generation. Sony released its PlayStation 4 last week; Microsoft launches its Xbox One this week.

These things make me wistful. Heck, I remember when I refused to believe a GamePro editorial telling me that 16-bit gaming would come to an end. I was that stubborn. The Sega Genesis/SNES era was a great one for videogames. I didn't think it would get any better. In many ways, the current era that's "over" ended up being just as strong.

What follows is a quick look at my personal videogaming file. I don't play as much now as I used to--a lot of my spare time goes to writing--but videogames were definitely a major part of my childhood. And as they've crept into the public consciousness and become more mainstream, I've been there, too.

Here's a look back.

Intellivision. Oh, Intellivision. You were so clunky with your wood-grain base and that strange golden metal finish. Your controllers looked like little cellphones--although we never realized it because cellphones were a heckuva lot bigger in those days. And who needs joysticks? No one. Your little directional disc at the bottom got it done.

The controller also featured buttons on either side and plastic overlays for the numerical keypads. Woe to the lost gamer who misplaced his overlays and had to learn through trial and error how to play a game.

I loved our Intellivision. This was a system for the entire family, and the first videogame system I remember playing. We've always been a sports-oriented family, so favorites included Major League Baseball (and, later, World Championship Baseball), Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball, and NFL Football (and, later, Super Pro Football). When we weren't playing sports games, we evaded killer robots in Night Stalker, blew up asteroids in Astrosmash, and evaded hot dogs in BurgerTime (an absolute CLASSIC). Other frequently played games included Triple Action (a game featuring three modes: tank battle, biplane battle, and car racing) and the ports of Frogger and Pac-Man. The bowling game was also fun although I was never very good at it.

We sold our Intellivision at a garage sale one year. I kinda miss the little guy.

NES. Ah, the Nintendo Entertainment System. When I was in elementary school, this was the system to have. I constantly swapped games with friends. The controller was absolutely perfect. D-pad, select, start, B, and A. You didn't have shoulder buttons or anything like that--it was gaming simplicity. The console itself was visually unassuming and easy to use.

As with the Intellivision, sports games were huge for my family. Bases Loaded II: Second Season was an immensely satisfying baseball game. We were big fans of Play Action Football. We never found a great basketball game, though. My brother and I weren't big fans of Double Dribble and we ended up with Magic Johnson's Fast Break, which was a horrible game. Blades of Steel was a fantastic game even though we aren't big hockey fans.

But it wasn't just sports games. I loved Super Mario Bros. (who didn't?) and Bionic Commando. I'm not the greatest fast-twitch action gamer in the world, but I loved Bionic Commando so much that I played it and played it until I could get through it without dying. I enjoyed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game even though it wasn't as awesome as the actual arcade game. Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing also ranks as one of my favorite NES games; loved the way you could paint your own car and race it. I didn't own the NES port of Smash TV, but I rented it a lot. The Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back games got a lot of play, too. I always loved the Hoth/AT-AT level in ESB. I also liked Tetris (the Nintendo version, not the Tengen one) and WWF: Steel Cage Challenge mostly because you could play as the Mountie. I also have to mention The Legend of Zelda.

I ended up selling my NES to get a Sega Genesis. And, like the Intellivision before it, I kinda miss the little guy.

Sega Genesis. By the time the Sega Genesis really got going, I had a paper route and decided I absolutely needed a Sega Genesis. I can't explain what drew me to the Genesis over the Super Nintendo. The SNES was a fine piece of hardware and had a lot of games I really wanted to play (mostly the Super Star Wars Trilogy, which never made it to Sega's system). I've never really been a huge Mario/Zelda guy (I like the games, but I'm not married to them), so missing out on Super Mario World and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past didn't bother me at all.

When I bought my Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog was the pack-in game AND you could send off to get Sonic 2 for free. I thought that was absolutely awesome. I really enjoyed the Sonic games although I was never particularly good at them. Loved the Casino Zone in Sonic 2. Those were my first two games for the Genesis.

From a sports game perspective, I spent a lot of time playing NFL Football '94 starring Joe Montana. It was a SportsTalk football game, so you got the announcer that totally didn't sound at all like a computer. That football game was the first one that looked and felt truly realistic as far as the player models went. The passing game never worked all that well aside from a few of the short passing plays like the 212 Shoot, which you could absolutely kill defenses with if you had a decent #2 receiver. In later years, the Sega games went downhill and we turned to Madden Football.

I had RBI Baseball '93 and a couple of the Hardball games, which were awesome because you could name guys on rosters and design logos. The music that played during home runs was atrocious. College Football USA was fantastic; the sheer number of teams was staggering. I loaned that game to a guy in high school and never got it back. You could kill teams with Indiana's Alex Smith...although it wasn't Alex Smith even though it really was Alex Smith.

I couldn't mention the Genesis without including Captain America and the Avengers. My brother and I played that game all the time. I would play Cap, Greg would play Iron Man, and we could get through the game without losing a single life. I never owned Ecco the Dolphin, but I thought it was a fantastically unique game. Earthworm Jim was a revelation, and my friends and I got our fair share of play out of the Mortal Kombat series.

The Genesis had great basketball games in the Bulls vs. series and NBA Live. Given Live's recent history, I think it's best that we remember the 16-bit versions, which played great. NBA Live games were out when the Indiana Pacers were in their golden age, so you could run around and pop threes with Reggie Miller all day. If sim basketball wasn't your thing, NBA Jam and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition provided plenty of over-the-top bball action.

EA's NHL games were fantastic. I had NHL '96.

Sega CD. This was supposed to be the future of gaming.

It wasn't.

Still, I have a soft spot for the Sega CD even though its pack-in game, Sewer Shark, was abysmal.

I had NHL '94 for the Sega CD. This may have been the best version of that fantastic game thanks to the CD-ROM's awesome music. Player cards had grainy video. There was an awesome grainy video intro. ALL SEGA CD VIDEO WAS GRAINY.

Star Wars: Rebel Assault was the reason I got the system. At the time, my family had a 286 that struggled to play X-Wing. The Sega CD Rebel Assault, I would later discover, was missing a level. The video was also grainy. Shocking, I know.

I logged a fair amount of time in the port of Wing Commander and actually enjoyed the quirkiness of the point-and-click Jurassic Park game. That's the only game where I've ever discovered a cheat code by chance without consulting a strategy guide or hearing it from a friend.

How did I not have Sonic CD? Honestly!

I still have the Sega CD and the Genesis. They're in a plastic tote with all of their games. All I need is a new RF adapter for the Genesis and a power adapter for the Sega CD. One day, they'll play again.

Sony PlayStation. I don't remember exactly what possessed me to get a Sony PlayStation other than the fact my friends had one. It was a good system--I took it to college and played it a lot during my freshman year--but the only strong memory I have from it is Metal Gear Solid, which remains one of my all-time favorite games. I actually popped it in the other day. I had the usual sports games, including MLB 99, Triple Play Baseball, a few versions of Madden, etc. I don't remember having a basketball game or a hockey game.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy got a lot of play during college, and we nicknamed Noob Saibot "Noob Cheap-Move-Bot." I'm probably the only MK player who ever enjoyed playing as Stryker, who was admittedly an awful character in design and purpose. We had a lot of fun with Medal of Honor, which was a seriously great game ("Ah! It's Jimmy Patterson!"). A friend of mine and I had a little song we'd sing when you picked up the shotgun: "Shotgun, shotgun, get it, get it." I guess you had to be there.

So I guess while I enjoyed the PlayStation, I wasn't particularly enamored with it or attached to it. That probably explains why my next console became...

Xbox original. It's gigantic. The controller is gigantic.

I loved it.

The original Xbox had a comically short lifespan as Microsoft tried to get a handle on the whole videogame thing. During this first PlayStation/Xbox war, this generation went to Sony. Most of my friends had PS2s. A couple had Xboxes, but the PS2 was much more common. Still, I liked my Xbox. The hard drive was nice for adding music and having plenty of space for saving games.

NHL Hitz was fantastic, and I played it a few months ago. Just a super fun, super addictive game. I love the Franchise mode where you acquire players and equipment as you work your way into the NHL. NFL2K5 was a revolutionary game in terms of presentation and value. Had it not been for this formidable competitor, we may have never seen EA's exclusive license (although we probably would have anyway).

I had Halo and I sucked at it, but the game was pretty awesome. The Grand Theft Auto Double Pack rocked, and I got a lot of use out of that. Lego Star Wars was a great deal of fun. The NCAA football games were usually solid, especially the last couple in that generation. My poor, underpowered Celeron PC couldn't run Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast: Battle of the Colons, so I had it on Xbox. Surprisingly, I really got into Tiger Woods 2004 even though I'm not a golfer.

And then there was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which is probably the best Star Wars game ever made.

I still have the Xbox, although it needs a new power cord.

Xbox 360. Microsoft showed it could make a decent console with the first Xbox.

It showed it could make a great one with the Xbox 360. Despite the red ring of death, despite the Xbox live paid subscription, despite the popularity of the PlayStation brand, Microsoft turned Xbox into a huge brand. The console was designed for multiplayer games, and it delivered. About midway through its lifespan, Microsoft added multimedia content like Netflix. It added Kinect.

But those weren't the reasons I loved my 360 (I don't have Kinect). I loved it because of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. I loved it because of the Online Dynasty mode in NCAA Football--the only place where Purdue could win a national championship. I loved it because of Lego Batman. Halo 3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Arkham City.

I loved it because I used to work in TV news and one morning we decided to feature Madden 10 on launch day. We almost failed to get a coherent newscast on the air because we stopped to watch a Madden game in demo mode.

I loved it for Plants vs. Zombies. The Marvel pinball tables. Guitar Hero II. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

My first Xbox ended up RRODing, but the repair was quick and relatively painless.

In closing

My little trek down memory lane shows I don't have much brand loyalty. I've bounced around from Nintendo to Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. You could even argue I missed the "best" systems from each company (Nintendo's SNES and Sony's PS2). I don't even know if I'll get a next-gen system. History says I probably will, but I don't know which one it'll be. Microsoft made some mistakes in the lead up to this November launch; Sony seized the momentum and released a sexy-looking system.

I'm probably leaning toward Xbox One, however. The product intrigues me and I've been in the Xbox ecosystem for more than a decade now. That doesn't mean I can't change, though, because that PS4 looks awfully nice.

Either way, I'm waiting until these systems get some must-have games. Right now, they don't have an "killer apps."

Oh, a price cut would be nice, too. Really nice. I'll wait for that.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 11 vs. Titans

Chris Johnson for 30 yards. On the first drive, after a series of passes, Chris Johnson bolted right, got great blocks, and raced to the endzone. 7-0, Titans. Just like that.

Trent Richardson's first carry. He gained a yard. Barely. The Colts did make an effort early in the game to get him involved in the passing game.

GRIFFNATION--uh, never mind. Griff Whalen gave us his best DHB impression, dropping a third-down pass on the Colts' first series. It was awesome.

Will someone cover Delanie Walker? The first quarter wasn't even over, and Walker had four catches for 40+ yards. He finished with 10 grabs for 91 yards and a TD. Fun fact: he was targeted 10 times, meaning each time Ryan "Rugged Outdoorsman Beard" Fitzpatrick looked for him, he caught a pass.

Great start. Two drives, two touchdowns for Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans. Just like that, the Colts were down 14-0. Mission critical.

Finally on the board. The Colts finally scored early in the second quarter with a field goal from Adam Vinatieri. They were down 14-3, but it felt quite a bit different from the Texans or Rams deficits. I can't explain why I felt that way.

DHB: Hands of Marble. DHB dropped another pass on what should've been a big play. The ball got tipped slightly, but he had it in sight and got both hands on it. Will this guy ever make a play?

Momentum swing? Guess not. The Colts forced a three-and-out after Vinatieri's field goal. They picked up a couple first downs before punting.

The Flag Drive. Penalties against Robert Mathis, Cassius Vaughn, and Erik Walden gave the Titans plenty of free yards, showed the Colts had lost their composure, and put Tennessee in scoring position. Ryan "Zero Dark Thirty Beard" Fitzpatrick almost rope-a-doped the Colts into a free first down, but the Titans settled for a field goal. So...I guess one point for each flag?

The headbutt. Erik Walden headbutted a helmetless Tennessee receiver (Delanie Walker--so I guess they tried to stop him?). So there's that.

DHB caught a pass. It happened. I saw it. He even got out of bounds near the end of the first half. It was his only catch of the game.

Field goal before halftime. The Colts faced a 17-6 deficit at halftime. Luck led them on a nice drive to get close to the endzone. The drive sputtered with about 40 seconds left after Luck got sacked, setting up a short FG by Vinatieri.

And Donald Brown gets into the endzone. The Colts put together a terrific drive to start the second half. Luck converted some third-down opportunities, we saw a couple of decent runs from Trent Richardson (!) and Donald Brown. The drive culminated in a nice TD run that was well blocked by the Colts.

And a turnover! Tennessee fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Colts great field position. Indy capitalized with a touchdown. The fumble turned the game around, and the Colts never trailed again. They scored 20 unanswered points from the end of the first half through the fourth quarter.

Call your own number, man. Luck had Griff Whalen open in the flat, but pump-faked a Tennessee defender and took off for the endzone. The guy's incredible. Just like that, the Colts had a 20-17 lead.

"A Football Life: The Forward Pass." I love the NFL Network show, but the concept of this one is just weird.

Erik Walden shouldn't be allowed to dance. He sacked Ryan "Wookie Pelt Beard" Fitzpatrick, but Erik Walden--he of the cheap headbutt--shouldn't be allowed to do a celebratory dance.

First down challenge. Titans had to do it. It also had to fail. The spot on the QB sneak was very generous; I have no illusions about that. I understand why the Titans challenged the call, but I also knew there was no chance of a reversal. There was nothing--nothing--in that replay that would've reversed that call. And...the Titans probably could've used that timeout later, right?

Vinatieri with another one. After a failed third-down conversion, Adam Vinatieri came on the field to do what Adam Vinatieri does: nail big kicks.

Grinders. I didn't think they had it in them anymore, but Indy stepped up and brought back a balanced offensive attack in the second half. The power game worked and guys held their blocks. Indy had four drives of 11 or more plays. Each of those drives led to points, and none was more important than the 11 play, 74 yard drive that resulted in Donald Brown's second touchdown of the game. In fact, each Indy touchdown came on the ground (two by Brown, one by Luck). The resurgent running game also allowed Luck to hit on some big play-action passes.

Fantastic Fleener. I've been known to...um...rip on Coby Fleener from time to time. However, he proved his worth in this game, catching eight passes for 107 yards. He was there just about every time the Colts needed a big play, and I don't remember any of his signature, inexplicable drops either. Luck targeted him ten times vs. Tennessee.

Dashing Donald. Donald Brown had a phenomenal game, carrying 14 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns. He just looked more decisive and comfortable in the running game than Richardson. I've noticed that the Colts tended to run Brown out of different sets than Richardson, but against the Titans, Indy put Brown in those power formations. He showed patience, burst through the hole, and got to the second level. He's nimble-footed and has great vision. Let's put it this way, if this is the way the Colts' 2009 first-round pick plays in 2013, I'm expecting big things from Trent Richardson in 2016.

Protecting Luck. What a difference a running game makes. The Titans got to Luck a few times, but he avoided getting hit for the most part. Tennessee had one sack and four QB hits, a markedly better performance than we've seen in recent weeks against the Texans and Rams.

Luck's legs. Luck made big plays tonight when he saw running lanes. One scramble went for a key first down; another resulted in a touchdown. And I'd just like to say the "Luck Spike" is a thing of jubilant beauty. He ran nine times for 31 yards.

All too easy. Brown's second TD run late in the fourth quarter should've salted this game away, but the Colts defense let the Titans march right down the field and score despite the fact they had no timeouts. The onside kick failed, but there was absolutely no excuse for the easy TD.

And Chris Johnson had less than 100 yards rushing. After victimizing the Colts repeatedly in the first half and scoring two touchdowns, Chris Johnson disappeared in the second half. True, the Titans fell behind and the Colts did a better job on the running back, but it's still baffling to think CJ2K couldn't crack 100 yards after gaining 80 in the first half.

Reggie the Mentor. We'd like to see Reggie Wayne in the game, but we know that can't happen right now. It was great to see him on the sideline mentoring the young receivers and cheering on his team. The Colts may not be able to "Win One for Reggie" this year, but they'll certainly give it their best shot.

How the South was won? The Colts likely sealed the division and a playoff spot with this win. They hold a three-game lead over the Titans and will play them once again. As up and down as the Colts have been lately, this game will probably end up being a major turning point for the season.

Back-to-back streak intact. With the comeback win, the Colts still haven't lost back-to-back games in the Pagano/Luck era. I realize everyone knows this already.

No turnovers. Take care of the ball, and good things happen.

Good challenge. When the Colts caught the Titans with approximately 75 defenders on the field, and the refs missed it, Chuck Pagano threw the challenge flag. Indy got the call and ended up scoring a field goal on the drive. Considering the score was 14-0 at that point, it was a pretty big decision.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 10 vs. Rams

Well, that escalated quickly. Really, all the Rams needed was Chris Long's fumble return for a touchdown. It was all downhill from there. The Colts looked clueless, punchless, gutless, and unprepared.

Robert Mathis got a couple of sacks. No. 98 was about the only player who had any production on defense. He now has 13.5 on the season.

You know, it's okay to play with a lead. The Legend of Andrew Luck has built itself on the Comeback Win. That's fine. That's thrilling. That's nerve-wracking and simultaneously enjoyable. That said, I'd like to point out that it's okay to come out swinging early in the game and jump on the opponent. You don't always have to be the team that gets stomped on, picks itself up, and wins in the end.

Matt Hasselbeck sighting! Honestly, I think the Colts should've subbed Luck out earlier. He was getting battered and beaten by the Rams defense with no hope of winning the game. The only thing you risk by keeping him in a game that was clearly lost--I mean, the Colts had zero things go right in this one--is an injury. Concede that Luck's not on his game, and stick Hasselbeck in there earlier.

In the time it took to get a bowl of chili, Tavon Austin scored a touchdown. I watched the game at my in-laws' house. I went upstairs to get a bowl of chili, and when I came down to the basement Tavon Austin had scored on a 57-yard pass. I got back downstairs just in time to see the Rams kick the extra point.

How's the running game? Pretty sucky, but then again, so were the Colts.

Vontae Davis transforms into David Macklin. Vontae Davis has had a couple really rough games in a row. He couldn't contain Andre Johnson last week. This week's debacle was Tavon Austin, who did just about anything he wanted. Reminded me of the "good ol' days" when David Macklin routinely got beat deep.

Suck for Luck? More like Suck is Luck. Andrew Luck clearly wasn't himself. Go back and look at that first half--he missed a lot of throws. I can think of a pass to T.Y. Hilton that would've gone for a huge gain and a couple high overthrows to Coby Fleener that would've sustained drives. No. 12 had an "off" game, and his usually sound decision making was a disaster.

Which is worse: Darrius Heyward-Bey or Trent Richardson? I'm going with DHB on this one. I don't think it would've made any difference in this game, but DHB dropped a third down pass that went right through his hands and bounced off his chest. You just can't trust the guy. Richardson, by the way, averaged a meaty 0.4 yards per carry. He also caught three passes for 33 yards.

#GRIFFNATION. Three catches for 36 yards for Griff Whalen. I keep hearing things like he's "average" and "Griff Whalen is just Griff Whalen" and "he's nothing special." I refuse to believe these things. He also got rocked on a 25-yard catch late in the game. I BELIEVE, people. I BELIEVE IN GRIFFNATION.

About that punt return... As it unfolded, you couldn't believe it. It looked harmless enough and then Tavon Austin took it the distance. The return was pretty much a microcosm of this disastrous game.

The division. The Colts have no time to sulk about this one--they're up on Thursday Night Football this week. They'll take on the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. The Colts have a chance to get some distance in the AFC South with a win. An unlikely victory from Jacksonville preserved the Colts' two-game lead on the Titans. I think that result is just as jaw-dropping as the St. Louis-Indianapolis final.

A truly offensive line. They can't run block. They can't protect The Franchise. If I were an Indianapolis Colts lineman right now, I'd be completely embarrassed. The Rams were in the backfield all day, stuffing the run and punishing Luck. True, Indy didn't think Donald Thomas would get hurt, but it's clear this unit is struggling.

Take a knee. Take a knee! Kickoff returns were a joke this week (and they have been much of the season). David Reed refused to take a knee on several occasions, getting buried well behind the 20-yard line on multiple occasions (and trust me, thanks to the Rams' score-a-palooza, there were plenty of kickoff return opportunities). One of the loudest cheers from the crowd came when Reed finally conceded a touchback.

Five turnovers. Most of these came in garbage time (let's define garbage time as "after the first quarter"), but the Colts turned it over five times. One led to a touchdown; three others were interceptions near the goal line.

And it could've been worse. Don't forget that St. Louis fumbled in the red zone early in the game. That drive should've produced points.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Colts Observations: Week 9 vs. Texans

Did that just happen? Seriously. The Colts had no business winning this game. They were outclassed in every possible statistical category. They couldn't protect The Franchise. No one could catch a friggin' football. Andrew Luck completed 3 of 12 passes for 56 yards and zero third down conversions in the first half. The Colts couldn't even manage to get a turnover (and the one they did get got inexplicably taken away). Yet, they stayed the course and somehow managed to turn things around in the second half.

Not so special teams. Ick. The Colts were terrible here, especially in the first half. The Texans blocked an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Pat McAfee mishandled a punt, scrambled around, and then made an astoundingly good punt. The Colts were subsequently flagged for having an ineligible man downfield. On the re-kick, McAfee got absolutely rocked, firing off an ineffective punt of 29 yards. They also picked up a false start before McAfee's final punt of the game.

And then you have the Texans, who somehow had an even worse day. Kicker Randy Bullock missed three field goals, including a 55-yarder at the end that had absolutely no shot (it was Vanderjagtian in its complete and utter futility). On the Texans' final return of the day, a holding penalty negated a decent return, pushing them back to the 33-yard line.

I should also mention a couple positive moments: Sergio Brown made a nice play to down a punt inside the five. McAfee, who was holder on the blocked kick, chased down the returner, showing again that he does more than just punt and tweet like a maniac. Other than the blocked FG, Vinatieri was solid and reliable. T.Y. Hilton had a nice punt return (34 yards) that led to the Colts' first score of the game. Even David Reed had a good kickoff return.

Missing Reggie. Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels repeated this storyline about 80,000 times, approximately 3,000 fewer times than they mentioned how much we all should love Case Keenum. Despite the snark, you could definitely tell Andrew Luck was uncomfortable without No. 87 out there. Actually, the whole offense was uncomfortable without Wayne. Guys were in the wrong spots, they couldn't catch anything, and Luck was off target. There was no rhythm and the Colts looked clueless.

Case Keenum. I enjoyed watching Keenum play against the Chiefs last week. I would've enjoyed watching him this week if he'd played against any other team in the league. The kid's got some swagger. He makes plays and moves well in (and out) of the pocket. He's fearless, hard to sack, and has a knack for finding open receivers. Reminded me a bit of Russell Wilson out there, to be honest. He's yet to win an NFL game, however. Right now, I think the Texans ride him and see if he can get them some wins. They're certainly a much more exciting team with him out there, and if you're going to lose--which the Texans already were--you may as well lose in exciting fashion.

Should someone cover Andre Johnson? Johnson had a gigantic game against the Colts, catching 9 passes for 229 yards and 3 TDs. He did most of his damage in the first half, getting open for two long touchdowns and adding a third late in the half. The way the Colts played, you would've thought they'd missed Johnson on the scouting report. On one play, Vontae Davis bit on an out and up; Johnson ran free. On another play, Antoine Bethea had him deep and seemed to lose track of the ball. On another TD, Davis had perfect coverage but mistimed his jump in the end zone.

Key divisional win. The Colts needed this one to keep a little cushion against second-place Tennessee and stop the Texans from jumping back into the divisional race. While Houston dominated the first half, the Colts came alive in the second to steal a road divisional game.

TY times three. T.Y. Hilton went off in the second half, catching three touchdown passes. He finished with 7 grabs for 121 yards. Luck targeted Hilton 12 times. What I like about him is that each of his TD catches came in a different way. His first was a nice corner route where he beat his man and made a nice catch. On the second one--his game-changing 58-yard score--Hilton outran the coverage and got deep. On the third TD, he slid out on a little route to the flat, made a guy miss, and then got into the end zone.

Fleener's grab. A very, very big play was Coby Fleener's catch on a two-point conversion. Without that catch, the Colts only lead by a point. In that case, Bullock's inevitable missed field goal at the end would've missed for the win instead of the tie. But seriously, Fleener made a fantastic grab with two defenders on him. He got up and snatched it out of the air. He finished the game with 3 receptions for 64 yards.

#GRIFFNATION still a developing nation. I love Griff Whalen. I think he can be great, but he was hardly that in his first extended play of the season. Luck targeted him 9 times; Whalen finished with 3 catches, including a couple drops. That said, he came up with a major-league-huge grab on 3rd and 10 on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Luck also missed a wide-open Griff on a wheel route in the second half.

DHB MIA. If Darrius Heyward-Bey hopes to "replace" Reggie Wayne, he'd better start catching the ball. Collinsworth pointed out that DHB's skills and speed mean absolutely nothing if he has stone hands. He did draw a pass interference penalty that led to a field goal. So there's that.

Just the Texans bein' the Texans. I hate to say it (actually I don't), but this was a typical Texans game. This franchise wants to step into the big leagues, but each time Houston gets the chance, it falls flat on its face. Good teams don't blow 21-3 halftime leads. Then again, I never said the Texans were a good team. While Keenum never pulled a Sage Rosenfels in this game, he didn't have to--Randy Bullock did that for him.

Yes, let's report nothing about Gary Kubiak. Again. Like everyone, I was concerned about what happened to Gary Kubiak. It was a strange circumstance and a shock to everyone. Still, Sunday Night Football couldn't let the story go even though there was nothing to report. It went something like this:

"Let's check in with Michele Tafoya. What do you know?"

"I don't know anything guys, but here's that video again of Gary Kubiak collapsing just in case you didn't see it during one of my previous seven non-updates. To repeat information you've already heard, Kubiak collapsed at halftime and went to an area hospital as a precautionary measure. To reiterate one more time, the Texans PR staff knows nothing. Hence, I know nothing and am telling you that I know nothing."

"Thanks for the update, Michele. Our thoughts and prayers with Gary Kubiak..."

I just wish that, when people had nothing to report, they'd just report nothing. This isn't to say you don't mention what happened to Kubiak or reference it during the game, you absolutely have to. But to go back to the sideline reporter who knows nothing and act like it's an "update" is just stupid.

The fake spike. I did like Keenum's decision to forgo the spike near the end of the half and loft it up for Andre Johnson instead. It was a heady, canny play and paid off big time.

Richardson effective at points. The numbers weren't huge (and I'm starting to suspect they never will be, but maybe, just maybe this will work out). Still, he had a couple decent (and that's it: decent) runs and a huge catch that set up TY Hilton's third and final (game-winning) touchdown. I'd like to see the Colts work Richardson into the passing game a little more to get him some open field to work with. He's also usually pretty good in blitz pickups, although this wasn't his best game on that end.

First half possessions. Let's look at this:

Colts: Blocked FG, punt, punt, punt, punt, FG, end of half.

Texans: Touchdown, turnover on downs, touchdown, punt, missed FG, punt, touchdown.

Second half possessions. And...

Colts: FG, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt.

Texans: FG, missed FG, punt, punt, missed FG/end of game.

Going for it. I thought it was a mistake when Kubiak decided against a relatively easy field goal in favor of going for it on fourth and one on the Texans' second drive. The Texans should've gone for the points...but then again, maybe they didn't have confidence in their kicker (even though this was way before Bullock missed those field goals).

24-6. Third quarter. Think about it. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime and 24-6 late in the third quarter. Even after TY Hilton scored to make it 24-12, a comeback felt unlikely because the Colts struggled to find rhythm on offense. Then, after a stop and a quick strike to Hilton, we suddenly had a ballgame.

Luck under fire. The Texans hit Luck 11 times and finished with 4 sacks. Indy had no answers in the first half for that pass rush. They finally went to a max protect scheme at times that gave No. 12 more protection.

Last offensive "drive." Some people may think the Colts went conservative at the end of the game. Let's face it, they were deep in their own territory and had avoided turnovers despite a couple close calls. They made the Texans burn two timeouts. On the third down play, they gave the ball to Donald Brown and ran off another 40 seconds. If they'd thrown an incompletion on that play, Keenum & Co. would've had 40 more seconds to get closer for a game-tying FG. Besides, it's clear the coaching staff...

...Put it in the defense's hands. The Colts defense was much better in the second half. They went to some more aggressive schemes and tried to put more pressure on Keenum. It worked. The Texans managed only 3 points in the second half after lighting up the Colts in quarters one and two. They mostly limited the big plays and harassed the young quarterback.

Active Angerer. Pat Angerer nearly came up with a game-sealing interception, but it wasn't to be. Angerer also made a great tackle on Keenum in which the Colts outsmarted the Texans. Keenum ran several effective bootlegs off the team's stretch run game. On a key second and 8, Keenum faked a handoff, Robert Mathis crashed down from the outside, and Angerer went straight for Keenum, stopping him for a 3-yard loss. The resulting third and 11 play fell incomplete, and the Texans had to punt. Angerer led the team with 12 tackles.

The fumble that wasn't. I still can't get over the reversal on the fumbled kickoff return. Is it possible that LaVon Brazill touched the ball while he was out of bounds? It's absolutely possible, even probable. Did I see any indisputable video evidence that warranted a reversal? Absolutely not. I saw a few instances of "maybe the ball hit his foot" or "maybe the ball hit his hand while he was out of bounds." I never saw anything that said, "Yep. He touched it. That should be Houston's ball." I'm obviously a Colts sympathizer, but I try to be fair. I didn't see anything on that replay that warranted a reversal. It should've stood as called (for what it's worth, Collinsworth said he thought the referee would confirm the ruling).

Revenge of the Challenge. The Colts got a measure of revenge when Andre Johnson's catch was overturned on review in the fourth quarter. The Colts challenged that one (it happened right in front of their sideline). I really didn't see much and figured it would stand as called. Instead, the referee said Johnson didn't have control of the ball on the ground. Again, I didn't see much on the replay to warrant the reversal. All in all, it's a wash...with both calls hurting each team equally. The Texans scored a touchdown off the fumble reversal; the Colts scored a touchdown after the pass was ruled incomplete.

Luck's second half. Let's end this on a good note...as Andrew Luck often does. After a terrible first half, Luck lit up the Texans in the second half, going 15-28 for 215 yards and 3 TDs while coming up with big play after big play (a 17-yard pass on third and 10 to Griff Whalen was a standout play). He finished 18-40 for 271 yards.