Jim Harbaugh walked out of the trainer's room after his
Indianapolis Colts had been beaten by the New England Patriots,
27-9, and you checked his features to see just how much damage
had been done. Nasty bruise under the right eye, another one on
the bridge of his nose, which was slightly off center, having
been broken by the Patriots with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.
"His nose was pushed way over to one side," Colts center Kirk
Lowdermilk said. "I guess they pushed it back somehow."
Harbaugh made his farewell from the RCA Dome playing field after
the injury, heading back to the locker room, a towel pressed to
his nose, as reserve quarterback Paul Justin ran the Colts'
offense. There would be no comeback for Captain Comeback this
Sunday, only a long week ahead, doing interviews that would
begin, "How much more of this can you take?"
The week before, after the Baltimore Ravens nearly broke his
wrist and after he felt his arm go numb at one point in the
game, he had spent Sunday night in the hospital--for general
rehab. The game before that, he had limped off the field after
the Bills sacked him six times. "Wrist, turf toe, tendinitis in
the ankle, bruised heel," Harbaugh said two days before the Pats
broke his nose. "The wrist was the one that scared me. I was
surprised it wasn't broken; I thought it was when I took the
hit. I've had some pretty memorable beatings."
He has been sacked 14 times in the last three games. Buffalo's
six on Oct. 6 are understandable because the Bills are
major-league sackers. But the Ravens came into the RCA Dome with
six sacks on the season, and they picked up three in the first
quarter. They ended up with four for the day, and that left New
England as the NFL's worst sacking team, with nine in six games.
The Pats got four on Sunday.
Sacks, however, didn't decide Sunday's weird contest, which saw
the Colts run off 44 first-half plays, to New England's 22, and
still trail the Patriots 10-6 on the scoreboard. Fumbles, drops
and special teams breakdowns were the Colts' undoing. But when a
fumbled punt gave the Patriots a gift touchdown to open the
second half and Harbaugh was forced to play catch-up, New
England's pressure kicked in, and there was plenty of it.
"There were times when they didn't know where we were coming
from," said Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest, who had two
sacks plus the knockout blow that broke Harbaugh's nose.
"The first guy [end Mike Jones] yanked my face mask," Harbaugh
said after the game. "The second guy [McGinest] cleaned me up
with a right cross."
"We knew coming in that they had protection problems," said rush
linebacker Chris Slade, who applied constant pressure all
afternoon. "Their Buffalo game was a massacre."
Well, the Colts are still tied with Buffalo for the AFC East
lead, at 5-2, a game ahead of the Patriots and the Dolphins, but
their quarterback is getting slaughtered, and if you're
Indianapolis coach Lindy Infante, what do you do?
The options are threefold: 1) Open a new can of linemen, 2)
tailor the offense to a shorter drop (few teams use as many
seven-step-drop pass plays as the Colts do), or 3) get Harbaugh
to respect the pocket more, to stay at home instead of throwing
so much on the move.
Option number 1 is not possible in midseason. Number 2 is not
practical, Infante says, because he's a seven-step-drop man and
you can't change your whole philosophy. "It compounds the
problem," he says. "All a shorter drop does is get your
quarterback ready to throw quicker, but if your pattern hasn't
developed, where are you?"
And number 3? Well, it's tough to respect the pocket when it
keeps breaking down, especially at the tackle positions. And
then there's the matter of Harbaugh's particular style. He's
more effective when he's on the move. He doesn't fumble, and he
doesn't throw interceptions--the usual liabilities of moving
quarterbacks--and he doesn't hang around long enough to get
whacked from the blind side.
"You'll notice that when I get hit, it's usually when I'm on the
move," he said last Friday. "I respect guys like Bledsoe or
Marino who stand there till the last second trying to make a big
play, but I don't think I have the arm for that. And you don't
see Brett Favre standing there getting rocked. He likes to move
O.K., so you get hit and you don't cough up the football. Award
that man a medal--but it'll have to be the Purple Heart.
"I don't think about injuries on the field," Harbaugh said. "But
afterward when I'm looking at films, I wonder, How many of those
can I take?"
O.K., how many can you take?
"Look," he said, "I'm not gonna change my style just to survive
a season. You're born, you play, you coach, you die."
Dr. Z's weekly Internet NFL preview can be found at
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG In his last three games, Harbaugh has suffered 14 sacks and a broken nose. [Jim Harbaugh being tackled by New England Patriots player]