Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing update

I've been working on a fairly intensive rewrite of III Crimsonstreak using my own notes and those from a beta reader. It's almost finished and ready to submit. I have some material left to polish and I have to work on the appendices. Like II Crimsonstreak, I'll probably only write about 10,000-12,000 words of extras. For comparison, I, Crimsonstreak had significantly more extra material--in the ballpark of 20,000 words.

Once I get that finished, I'll send it off to Candlemark & Gleam. I'm submitting later than I intended, but sometimes that happens.

This will be the third and final book of the Crimsonverse series, although I may do a couple novels set in the same universe. Crimsonstreak's story, I feel, is complete.

After that's finished, I'm working on a science fiction-comedy novel that I'm really proud of. I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm keeping details under wraps for now. I don't like to do that, but I'll have to in this case. The book is ready for a good polish and revision, and then I think I'll see if I can get any bites.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Colts Observations: Divisional Round vs. Patriots

Another bad start. The hole wasn't 38-10 this time, but it seemed just as large. Andrew Luck threw an interception on the Colts' first drive to set up an easy Patriots touchdown. Before you knew it, the Colts were down 14-0 after another short TD run by LeGarrette Blount. The Colts continued to rally until the fourth quarter, when things got ugly.

Foxborough: Where Colts teams go to die in the playoffs. Really, I've seen this song and dance before. A "hot" Colts team goes into Foxborough and gets demolished by the Patriots. Different quarterback, different roster, same result. It's a tough place to win, and to beat the Patriots, you have to play a nearly flawless game. The Colts made too many mistakes.

Turnovers. Just like last week, Luck forced some throws into good coverage, and the result was four interceptions. Three of them were killers (the fourth one came in garbage time when the Colts were down by three touchdowns). The first one came on the first drive of the game. The second one came after the Colts "forced" a safety. I wonder how the game would've played out if they had marched down the field before the half and put some points on the board. The third interception followed Blount's backbreaking 73-yard TD run, when Luck misread the coverage and forced a throw that had no chance. The Patriots scored another quick touchdown to take a commanding 43-22 lead.

Gashed. The Patriots ran the ball 46 times, with Blount and Stevan Ridley getting the bulk of the carries. New England stuck with the run, and Indy couldn't stop it. The running game didn't produce a ton of yards in the first half, but by the second half, the beleaguered Colts were hapless against Blount, a 250-pound battering ram. They surrendered first downs in crucial situations and tackled poorly, no missed tackle more costly than LaRon Landry's whiff on Blount that led to that killer 73-yard run.

Tough day for T.Y. The game came easy to T.Y. Hilton last week, but that wasn't the case against the Pats. Hilton couldn't get on track in the first half as he was pushed around and double covered. He eventually found some space as the Colts tried to rally (he finished with four catches for 103 yards), but also got banged up, getting up and leaving the field slowly on at least two occasions.

And that's Belichick for you. He's evil, but he's a genius. Belichick teams take away the things you do best and force you to do the things you're not very good at. That's why the secondary made sure Hilton was a non-factor early and why New England ran the ball 40+ times. Belichick knew Indy couldn't stop his running game (and also knew his receivers weren't scaring anyone), so the Pats kept pounding the ball. It paid huge dividends down the stretch, and New England held a 35:00-25:00 advantage in time of possession.

Up to the challenge, mostly. While Hilton struggled, I thought the Colts got nice games from Coby Fleener (6 receptions, 74 yards), Griff "GRIFFNATION" Whalen (5 receptions, 67 yards), and LaVon Brazill (2 receptions, 73 yards, 2 touchdowns). The receiving corps helped keep the Colts within a touchdown by the fourth quarter, and if a few things had gone differently, maybe we have a more interesting game in the end. Da'Rick Rogers was a huge disappointment, however. He had zero catches and a couple big drops.

Too many "almost" plays. While the Colts had too many turnovers, they also had too many "almost" plays. Robert Mathis almost got to Brady for a sack-and-strip that would've forced a turnover or made the Pats settle for a field goal. Antoine Bethea almost came up with an interception in the endzone before the Patriots scored their final touchdown. Da'Rick Rogers almost caught a ball that would've picked up a key first down. LaRon Landry almost tackled Blount on that big TD run (okay, I'm being charitable on that one). The Colts almost stopped the Patriots on a drive, but Josh Gordy was flagged for pass interference.

First and goal. I hated the play calling on the Colts' first offensive possession of the second half. They were first and goal at the four-yard line. Their sequence: Donald Brown up the middle, Trent Richardson up the middle, fade pass to Fleener. I would've preferred a play-action pass on first or second down (or the Fleener fade route earlier). The Colts, who weren't exactly pushing the Patriots defensive line around (or anyone else's defensive line this season for the most part), should've also spread the field to give Brown some running lanes. Instead, they tried to win at the point of attack, which is something they haven't done since the San Francisco game.

And let's just punt the ball. With about ten minutes left in the game, the Colts faced fourth and one at their own 29. They ended up punting the ball. At this point, they trailed by three touchdowns and time was running out. I couldn't believe they chickened out here and decided to kick it. If something positive happens on the drive, maybe they make things interesting. If they get stopped, the Patriots already have a three touchdown lead, so another score just piles it on. Punting effectively conceded the game by allowing the Patriots to kill 7:35 of clock on their next drive. Couldn't believe it.

They managed to keep it close. Despite all the problems, the Colts still kept it 29-22 going into the fourth quarter. LaVon Brazill made a couple of great TD catches, Hilton got involved in the passing game, and Luck avoided pressure by stepping up into the pocket. Had Indy managed to prevent Blount's huge TD run, maybe things turn out differently. Maybe not.

Huge pass to Amendola. The Colts appeared to have some momentum after scoring a field goal to make it 21-15. Cam Johnson then dropped Blount at the 12 on a kickoff return, and the Patriots were backed up. The first play on their drive? A 53-yard pass to Danny Amendola, a completion that completely changed field position and led to another Patriots touchdown (and a two-point conversion). Just like that, the Pats were up 29-15. The Colts responded with a touchdown to draw closer at 29-22, and the teams exchanged a few punts before Blount's big run.

Have a nice trip. If a Patriots player trips Andrew Luck, but the officials don't see it, was Andrew Luck really tripped?

Take care of the ball. Stop the run. Close out third downs. These are the things the Colts needed to do to win this game. These are also the things they failed to accomplish. Four turnovers. Six rushing touchdowns and 234 yards rushing on 46 carries. Allowed Patriots 11-18 on third down.

Silver lining? Hmmm... hard to say. This Colts team clearly overachieved. They took advantage of a weak division and had a comeback for the ages to win a home playoff game. They overcame losses to front-line players like Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, and Donald Thomas to reach the postseason. They looked like one of the NFL's best when they beat San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City. They had head-scratching losses to St. Louis, Arizona, San Diego, and Miami.

What did we learn? We learned this year that the team isn't quite there yet, that Luck has guts but is ultimately human. We learned that spending big money on defensive free agents doesn't make the defense dominant in one year. We learned that you should be wary when a team is willing to give up last year's first-round pick in a trade. We also learned that Luck is the real deal, a man capable of rallying his team and making clutch plays in close games despite an ineffective offensive line and a poor running game. And we discovered that replacing a legend isn't easy, especially when that legend puts up yet another MVP season in orange.

So that's it... another year of Colts football. Two years, two playoff appearances, a playoff win, and two playoff road losses. I'll see you again next season!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Colts Observations: Wild Card vs. Chiefs (Did that really happen?)

Wow. Wowedy. Wow. Wow. Wow. That was an incredible game. I was so wired hours afterward that I struggled to get to sleep. Completely unbelievable for this one to have been a game after the way the Colts got pasted early. 38-10? No one comes back from that. No one.

T.Y. Hilton. I watched the game with my father-in-law, who said the Colts have basically two gamebreakers: Donald Brown and T.Y. Hilton. Hilton is the team's only consistent threat in the passing game, and the Chiefs couldn't stop him. The Colts got him involved early on their first drive. He finished the game with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. Seems fitting that Hilton scored the team's first touchdown and the last one.

Supporting cast. While Hilton was certainly "the man," several other players stepped up to make big plays on offense. LaVon Brazill had a key grab. Da'Rick Rogers had a game-changing catch that set up a touchdown in the second half. Donald Brown delivered touchdowns by ground and air (and nearly had a third touchdown!). Coby Fleener caught a TD pass and came up big on a key third down. But they couldn't have done it without...

Andrew Luck. This is why the Colts drafted him. This is why the franchise made the toughest decision in all of sports to put the future of the Colts in this man's hands. For approximately 60% of the game, Luck was awful. His interceptions at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second seemed to be the final nails in the coffin. A third interception (which was kind of a fluke, but still counts) also made the comeback more difficult.

But champions are sometimes at their best when they're at their worst. That was the case with Luck, especially in the second half. He somehow erased our collective memory of every mistake with an incredible play. He had QB scrambles. He faked out the entire nation with a zone read that picked up a first down. He found Da'Rick Rogers downfield (and Rogers made an incredible catch). He kept finding T.Y. Hilton. No matter how bad the game got--and let me tell you, it got very, very bad--Luck held to the single-minded belief that he and the Colts would triumph. When the game looked the bleakest, and the Colts stared down a 38-10 deficit in the third quarter, Luck refused to give up. He finished with 443 yards (!), four touchdowns, and three interceptions. He also added 7 rushes for 45 yards and...

One for the ages. There were several memorable moments throughout the game, but the Colts' final two scores will stick with me for a long time. Luck handed the ball off to Brown near the goal line, and everyone gasped as the ball went airborne. It caromed to Luck, who picked it up and dove into the end zone for the score. Technically, it was a fumble recovery touchdown. Realistically, it saved the Colts' season.

And then T.Y. Hilton somehow got wide open for a 64-yard TD pass. Luck threw a frozen rope to Hilton, who badly beat the Chiefs' secondary. It was a perfect throw on a route, I later read, usually used to help clear out the garbage for underneath routes. The score completed the offense's role in the comeback.

Defensive turnaround. In the first half, the Colts defense gave up 31 points. They surrendered 13 points in the second half, and it wasn't always a pretty sight. However, the D stepped up and made plays when they badly needed them. Robert Mathis turned the game around with a sack-fumble (and a recovery that was reviewed, putting everyone on edge...seriously, in the future, just FALL ON THE BALL). And nothing was more vital than Cory Redding's stop on third and goal. Without that play, this would've been a different game. Credit also goes to Josh Gordy for forcing Dwayne Bowe to the sideline on that fourth and 11 play.

Greg Toler's groin. So this guy's been hurt forever. He finally returns to the starting lineup, and I think I could've outrun him. Toler was clearly injured. He gave up a huge pass to Dwayne Bowe (and tried to strip him instead of tackling him, leading to an even bigger gain). Then, he let Donnie Avery run right past him for a huge play. Toler never had a chance on that one. He was truly a liability out there, and it floors me that Indy kept him out there for so long. In other groin news, I don't think Vontae Davis was 100% healthy either. But then again...

At least they weren't the Chiefs. The Chiefs built a huge lead, but they kept losing ground and personnel. Jamaal Charles went out early. Donnie Avery left the game. Justin Houston left the game. Brandon Flowers left the game. Knile Davis (the backup running back) left the game. Losing key players clearly hurt KC. Let's pretend the Chiefs didn't blow a huge lead and won. Who would've played next week?

Speed it up. On their first drive, the Colts pushed the pace, getting up to the line of scrimmage quickly and letting Luck make calls at the line of scrimmage. They continued doing it that way for most of the game, making everyone wonder why they didn't just commit to the strategy earlier in the season.

Trent Richardson. One carry, one fumble. Richardson's turnover was a catalyst for the huge hole the Colts found themselves in. He didn't see much time on the field after that, and he never touched the ball again. I think fans are done waiting for this guy. Oddly enough, I had a dream Friday night that Richardson ran for 150 yards against Kansas City. Some dreams don't come true, kids.

The turnover battle. The Colts lost it. Badly. Luck gave away three interceptions, and each one felt like a soul-crushing turnover at the time. Richardson fumbled before the game got truly ugly. In the end, Indy was -3 in turnover differential. This is a team that prides itself on taking care of the ball and almost always wins the turnover battle. If you're the Chiefs, and you're up 38-10 at one point and force four turnovers, how do you lose the game? That's a question Chiefs fans will be asking for a long time.

Are the Colts the Chiefs' Patriots? As a Colts fan, I've had a quasi-irrational hatred of the New England Patriots for a long, long time. It's not just because they won three Super Bowls or because Tom Brady is an underwear model disguised as a quarterback. My dislike for the Pats goes back to a pair of crushing playoff losses in back-to-back seasons. I wonder if that's how Chiefs fans feel about the Colts. I thought back to the "Lin Elliott Game" in which the KC kicker missed three field goals, leading to a 10-7 win by the Colts at Arrowhead. The Chiefs were the top seed that year. His Wikipedia entry is kind of heartbreaking. During the 2003-2004 season, the Chiefs--the No. 2 seed--lost at home again to the Colts in a game in which neither team punted. And--I nearly forgot this one--the Colts beat them during their Super Bowl run. So basically, it doesn't matter if the quarterback is Jim Harbaugh, Peyton Manning, or Andrew Luck--the Colts have your number, KC.

Hold your breath. The Colts blew a coverage late in the game, allowing running back Cyrus Gray to get wide open down the right sideline. Alex Smith, who'd been on target for most of the day, overthrew him.

Take a knee, take a bow. After a hard-fought defensive stand, the Colts offense took the field in the victory formation. Luck took three knees, the clock ran out, and the Colts completed one of the most unlikely comebacks in NFL history.

Destination unknown...for now. Will it be New England or Denver? We won't know until the Chargers-Bengals game Sunday afternoon. If the Chargers beat the Bengals, then Indy books a trip to visit the Patriots. If the Bengals win, the Colts head to the Mile High City to take on the Broncos. I hear their quarterback is pretty good.