Except for the clumsy way it ended, there was actually a lot to admire about the Indianapolis Colts' season.
Given the many injuries the team suffered, with key players being lost for the year on both sides of the ball, it's remarkable they were even able to finish above .500, let alone win another AFC South title.
But the Colts will always remember 2010 for what might have been, thanks in no small part to Jim Caldwell's surprising decision to call a timeout while the New York Jets drove for what would be the winning field goal in their AFC Wild-Card Game. The heavily criticized move allowed the Jets to reconsider an original plan to call a running play before trying what likely would have been a long-range kick. Instead, Mark Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards on a deep throw that set up Nick Folk's decisive chip shot.
Here's a look at some of the key issues the Colts face after their third one-and-done playoff appearance in four seasons:
1. Can the Colts sign Manning long-term?
Peyton Manning's contract is up, but he isn't going anywhere. The only questions regarding his future in Indianapolis are: Will the Colts sign him to a deal that would extend beyond 2011, or will they end up giving him a one-year franchise tag? Team owner Jim Irsay has said multiple times that he fully intends to make Manning the highest-paid player in the NFL, which is logical given his Hall-of-Fame credentials and ability to still guide the Colts into the postseason after losing two of his top targets -- tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Austin Collie.
The Colts had wanted to finalize an extension in October, but Manning preferred to put off talks until the year was over. The league's uncertain labor climate could complicate matters, but club president Bill Polian has the knowhow -- and the owner's support -- to figure out a way to make certain Manning remains in a Colts uniform for the rest of his career.
As a last resort, the Colts could give Manning a franchise tag, provided one is available in the new collective bargaining agreement.
2. What about other key players' contracts?
Joseph Addai's best negotiating tool was being sidelined for part of the season with a neck injury. During that time, the Colts' running game, as well as their offense in general, struggled. That might very well convince the team's brass that Addai should be kept.
3. Should Caldwell be feeling any heat?
His questionable timeout in the wild-card game is going to haunt Colts fans, many of whom e-mailed the Indianapolis Star demanding he be fired, through the offseason. A puzzled Manning being caught by a TV camera raising his arms as Caldwell stopped the clock on the Jets' final drive is an image that will linger. But Irsay stressed to reporters that the coach's job security is not in doubt, saying "Jim's done a really good job."
Nevertheless, Caldwell and his staff were badly outcoached by Sean Payton and his New Orleans Saints staff in Super Bowl XLIV. And the playoff defeat wasn't the first time Caldwell's game management was second-guessed this season. He also called a late timeout in an Oct. 3 loss at Jacksonville that caused the Jaguars to shift from playing for overtime to driving for the winning field goal at the end of regulation.
4. Is it time to fix the O-line?
Polian blamed the offensive line -- which was set back by 2007 second-round draft pick and left tackle Tony Ugoh ultimately proving to be a flop -- for the Super Bowl loss. The fact the Colts gave up an NFL-low 16 sacks this season might be viewed as an indication that they improved up front, but much of that was because of Manning's short drops, quick release, and ability to feel pressure and avoid it. The pass protection needs to get better, as does the run-blocking.
Age is beginning to become a concern on the line. Center Jeff Saturday and right tackle Ryan Diem will turn 36 and 32, respectively, during the offseason. Re-signing Johnson, who protects Manning's blindside, would be an important step to helping this group move in the right direction. The Colts might also consider using the 22nd overall pick of the draft to find some line help.
5. Is trouble brewing over two prominent players?
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis have been looking for pay raises since before the season began. They staged protests by missing some offseason workouts, but it made no difference. To their credit, they didn't allow the hard feelings about their contracts to become a distraction and each had a strong season. Additionally, Wayne was furious that only one pass was thrown in his direction against the Jets. There is reason to expect more friction ahead.
The Colts continue to pay exorbitant money to safety Bob Sanders, who once was one of the biggest difference-making defensive players in the league. But he has missed most of the last three seasons with injuries. It is reasonable to assume that the Colts will approach Sanders about taking a pay cut or, perhaps, decide to send him packing. That likely won't be any easier for the team than it will be for Sanders.