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.