By Steve Keating
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Super Bowl will not be coming to Indianapolis this season but America's biggest party will be here next year and, after losing in the playoffs to the New York Jets, the Colts have turned their attention to 2012.
A gigantic yellow banner that stretches across Lucas Oil Stadium reads "Home of Super Bowl 2012" and reminds the Colts that they have a shot at becoming the first NFL team to play in the Super Bowl at their own stadium.
The Colts' game plan had been to lift the Lombardi Trophy this season and defend it on home turf next year.
But a Super Bowl run this season was probably wishful thinking for a team that limped through the 2010 campaign battling injuries.
Indianapolis, who placed 18 players on injured reserve in their latest campaign, saw their season finally come to an end on Saturday when a 32-yard New York field goal as time expired capped a heartbreaking Colts loss.
The injuries forced Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to work with an unfamiliar supporting cast of wide receivers for much of the season with favorite targets like Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez knocked out of action.
A makeshift backfield added to the Colts' offensive woes while the defense was also left plugging holes.
But the experience gained by players like tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White will offer depth at several key positions and could pay huge dividends next season when the Colts lineup returns to full strength.
"I don't know how you could give them more experience than they gained this year," praised Manning. "Playing in critical situations, in critical games against good defenses there is no question those guys will be better players for it."
Despite a revolving cast of characters, Manning produced one of his best seasons by passing for 4,700 yards, second only to New Orleans' Drew Brees with 4,710.
Manning also had 33 touchdown passes, three behind league leader Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.
Immediately following Saturday's loss to the Jets, Manning was unable to find any silver lining in a season that did not end in a trip to the Super Bowl.
"You're always learning, especially when you have new players," said Manning. "It's certainly disappointing tonight, that's really all you think about at this point.
"I think at some point you will sit back and reflect on the entire season but it's disappointing in the way we lost."
"It was a great year, pretty unusual but that's football," said wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who hooked up with Manning for the Colts only touchdown against the Jets. "Football is kind of like life, it throws things at you and you just have to deal with it and keep moving."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)