The Colts wrapped up the regular season with a big win over the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars at home, winning 30-10 in impressive fashion. The new-era Colts went away from what Bill Polian's Colts would do in resting the starters before the playoffs, but despite the fact that the Colts played their starters today, they also got the chance to rest them too. Quarterback Andrew Luck played only three quarters and it was a similar story for several others.
Make no mistake, however: the starters took care of business. In doing so, they got the best of both worlds - they played well and got momentum but also rested some players. While it was nice to get Luck and others some rest, the biggest takeaway from this game will be the momentum that the Colts gained today by playing very well.
Luck completed 26 of 37 passes (70.27%) for 282 yards and a touchdown despite having his receivers drop three passes and despite being under pressure quite a bit. T.Y. Hilton compiled one of the best performances of his career, catching 11 passes for 155 yards and going over 1,000 yards for the first time in his short career. Donald Brown and Trent Richardson both scored rushing touchdowns and Adam Vinatieri connected on all three of his field goal attempts, topping 2,000 career points and moving into fifth place all-time. The defense was dominant for the third straight week, and was once again headlined by Jerrell Freeman (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 2 PD) and Robert Mathis (6 tackles, 2 sacks). Mathis's re-took the league lead with 19.5 sacks on the year, finishing off a simply incredible regular season.
And, lastly, don't forget about Chuck Pagano, Pep Hamilton, and Greg Manusky, who all did terrific jobs today. They deserve to be commended for their jobs today and in the last three weeks. The Colts are looking like actual contenders now. They could make some noise in the playoffs, which start next week. Let's take a look at some of the game notes from today's game:
- T.Y. Hilton's previous single-game highs were 8 catches and 140 yards. He topped both of those marks in the same game, catching 11 passes for 155 yards. He was all over the field today and was dominant, and if the Colts hadn't been up so much Hilton likely would have gotten more. In particular his comeback route was working very well (which it did early in the season) and the Colts got two third down conversions on that early in the game.
- On the Colts second drive of the game, they faced a third and goal from the 2 yard line, up 7-0. Luck just barely overthrew Fleener on a fade route (my least favorite route because of how perfect the throw needs to be) and it looked like it would be a field goal try. But instead, head coach Chuck Pagano kept the offense on the field and they went for it on 4th and 2. I LOVED the decision to go for it and it worked out for them, as Trent Richardson scored on a 2 yard run with some good blocking from the line, too. I loved the decision and really want to give credit to Pagano for staying with his offense in that situation. That helped set the tone for the game. We've wanted Pagano to get more aggressive for a while, and recently he has been doing just that. Remember, he's still learning as a head coach, and it is beyond clear that he is improving.
- Pep Hamilton called yet another great game today, finishing the season off well and with three impressive games in a row. The biggest and most notable change is that the Colts have been starting off games in the shotgun and using the no huddle, and that resulted in a completely dominating start from the offense. The no huddle worked to perfection and give credit to Hamilton for using it at the beginning of the game for the past few weeks. Like Pagano, Hamilton is growing as a coach and a playcaller and the last three weeks have been his best three.
- Jerrell Freeman has had a terrific year and his last two games have been two of his best. Today he recorded 8 tackles, a sack, forced a fumble, and had two pass deflections along with 2 quarterback hits. He had a great game today.
- Robert Mathis is incredible. This has been his best year by far and he re-took the NFL lead with 19.5 sacks. The Rams' Robert Quinn (who plays at 4:25) has 18.0 on the year. Mathis had 2 sacks today to bring his season total against the Jaguars to 5 sacks. There also is a chance that Mathis will be credited with a half of a sack on Freeman's sack, which would bring Mathis to 20 on the year. Mathis was later awarded a sack last week (taking away a pick from Freeman) and we'll see if it happens again. I need to go back and look at it to see - it's closer than last week's, I think. Either way, Mathis was great yet again today and capped off a terrific regular season that should result in him winning the Defensive Player of the Year award.
- Griff Whalen looked good again, catching 4 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. He has really come on strong recently, and it has been really nice to see.
- Congrats to Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who was 3-for-3 in field goals today and became just the seventh player to ever top 2,000 career points. He actually moved into fifth place all-time today. He has had a tremendous season and this game was no different.
- The Jaguars got a garbage-time touchdown with 19 seconds left but for most of the game the Colts held them in check. In the last three games, the Colts defense has allowed just 876 total yards on 186 plays (292 yards per game, 4.7 yards per play) and has allowed only 20 points total (6.67 points per game). They have held opponents to 9 of 37 on third down (24.32%), recorded 12 sacks (4.0 per game) and have forced 8 turnovers. That's championship football and that's dominating defense. This is the best the Colts defense has played this year and it comes at the right time, too.
- Winning comes at a cost, however, and the Colts lost three defensive players to injuries today. Cornerback Vontae Davis didn't return with a groin injury, defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin didn't return with a knee injury and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner didn't return with an ankle injury. We'll see if any of those injuries are reason to worry. Obviously, the big one is Davis, but the others are significant too.
- The Colts are playing like they did early in the season. They've won three in a row, and by a combined score of 78-20. They enter the playoffs next week with a rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs, likely at Lucas Oil Stadium, likely upcoming (although that is dependent upon how the late afternoon games go - we'll keep you updated). The Chiefs would be a favorable matchup for the Colts, but no matter who they play, the Colts enter the playoffs on a very hot streak and they look like a very legitimate force now. They look ready to make some noise and, in a weak AFC, they have a shot. They've done great so far, especially lately. Next week is when it really matters, and we'll see if they can keep it up.
- The Colts finished the year 6-0 against the AFC South and 11-5 overall. It was the second year in a row the team finished 11-5 and the second year in a row that 11 wins really exceeded the expectations for the team. Before the year, people said this year's team would be improved but likely wouldn't get to 11 wins but somewhere between 7-11. They won 11 games, swept the division, and will host a playoff game next year. I, for one, am very pleased with the regular season the Colts have had. Very pleased. It has been a great year for the Colts, and the best thing is that it isn't over yet.