It was fitting that on a day where Chuck Pagano was in the house to watch his team play against the Buffalo Bills, his defense led the Colts to a victory. Pagano, the defensive-minded coach who only coached three games this year before being diagnosed with leukemia, was at Lucas Oil Stadium and even made an appearance on the video boards to a huge ovation. His defense made quite an appearance as well.
The Colts allowed 304 yards to the Bills but only 13 points. They forced a turnover (which is rare this year), recorded two big sacks (both on 3rd downs) and held the Bills to just 4 third down conversions on 13 tries.
The defense was led by inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who has continued to impress this season. Today he continued to make a strong statement with 16 total tackles (3 for loss) including a sack and another quarterback hit. He should garner some pro bowl buzz if he keeps playing like he has been.
Robert Mathis also notched a sack today, and Dwight Freeney looked as healthy today as he has looked all year. That did not equal much on the stat line (it was all zeroes besides for a quarterback hit) but he had a few plays in specific where he created some nice pressure. Fili Moala had a good game as well, before he left with an injury and did not return (officially an ACL sprain, per the team). Josh Gordy played pretty well today, at first look, and it seemed like he played one of his best games of the year. Of course, part of it may have been that the other two corners today (Darius Butler and Cassius Vaughn) didn't do much.
Also big to the Colts' win today was the special teams - namely, T.Y. Hilton. Hilton became the first Colt to return a punt for a touchdown in Lucas Oil Stadium and the first Colt to return a punt for a score anywhere since 2007. He took a first quarter punt back 75 yards for the touchdown, but the play was really thanks to the blocking. Pat McAfee punted great today (averaged 51.2 yards per punt with two of his five punts downed inside the 20 yard line), and Adam Vinatieri made both of his field goal tries.
The offense just looked off for much of the day, but they made the plays when it counted and did enough to get a win. Andrew Luck did not have one of his better days and just missed on way too many throws. He was not helped out by his receivers too much, and especially wasn't helped out by his offensive line. But some of the throws we have come to expect the rookie phenom to make, he didn't make. But then again, he made some plays that only Andrew Luck could make. He did it as much with his feet as with his arm today, and with both put together he still managed to throw for 240 yards and a score (a dart to T.Y. Hilton). Reggie Wayne also didn't play his best game today, but he still managed 8 catches for 102 yards. He is such a special player, no question about it.
On a day where the offense was just a little off all day, the Colts' defense and special teams stepped up and carried Indianapolis to a victory, their seventh this year. With the Steelers losing today as well, the Colts have at least a one game lead on every other AFC team for the wild card. With the win over Buffalo in a huge game today, the Colts made a statement with their defense and are now realistically in sight.
Some other notes from today's win:
- Tom Zbikowski was bad today. His day was highlighted by an interception that seemed to seal the game, but instead he fumbled the ball back to the Bills after a nice return. Just go down, sir. He left after that play with an injury (Colts said a shin contusion but I say it was an injury to his pride).
- At the end of the first half, the Colts got the ball back and were looking to get into field goal range. First Reggie Wayne drew a pass interference call and then he gained 26 yards on a reception and the Colts were at the 3 yard line. Two plays later, however, with no timeouts, they ran a quick slant. Nothing wrong with that. What was wrong was Reggie's route. He has to know to run that route deep enough to get the score. It would have been a touchdown had he ran the route one yard deeper. Instead, it looked as if the clock was going to run out on the Colts at the one yard line. But rookie Andrew Luck amazingly got his team to the line and got a spike to stop the clock with one second left. Adam Vinatieri then kicked an easy field goal and the Colts entered halftime leading 13-6. Those three points, however, were all thanks to a great job by Andrew Luck.
- It also cannot be ignored that Reggie Wayne drew two big pass interference penalties. He also set the NFL record by catching at least 3 balls in 59 straight games. Added to that, he notched another 100 yard receiving game, his third of the season - one in which he should seriously be in consideration for offensive player of the year.
- I have to give credit where credit is due, and that is to Bruce Arians for staying aggressive at the end of the game. The Colts faced a 3rd and 10 with just under two minutes remaining in the game with the Bills out of timeouts. It would have seemed ok to just run it and take as much time off the clock as they could. But instead Arians went to the air and Reggie Wayne drew an easy pass interference call for a first down. Game over. I've criticised Arians this year for his lack of aggressiveness, but today, he showed it at the end of the game and sealed the win for the Colts.
- Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, and Andrew Luck all ran well, though the stats may not show it. As a team they only gained 87 yards on 29 carries (3.0 YPC) but they were much better than the stats indicate.
- T.Y. Hilton continues to impress and be a home run draft selection by Ryan Grigson. Today he became the first Colt ever to both catch a touchdown and return a punt for a touchdown in the same game.
- Donnie Avery was bad today. Bad. Maybe the Colts rushed him back from his concussion last week. He just looked out of it and not all there today. Even when he made a nice play (a catch on 3rd and 6 for a first down), he managed to fumble it away (luckily for the Colts Dwayne Allen recovered). Avery has been very up and down this year, and today was a big down.
- Andrew Luck tied Sam Bradford (2009) for the most wins by a first overall draft pick in his rookie year since the 1970 merger. Luck still has five more games to go, including one against the Kansas City Chiefs. Yeah, safe to say he will set that record as well.
- A cool event happened at the end of the third quarter. Cheerleader Megan M. had her head shaved for leukemia awareness because the Colts reached the $10,000 mark in raising money (they raised $22,000). Another cheerleader joined her today as well. Very cool, and also very cool to have Pagano in the house today as well.
The Colts travel to Detroit next week to take on the Lions, who have a very good offense. The defensive success that the Colts enjoyed today will seriously be tested by the likes of Matthew Stafford and Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. But just like the rest of this year, don't rule the Colts out. After all, they're #ChuckStrong, and they showed that again today, with that slogan's namesake enjoying a firsthand view of the team that he built.
This one, just like every other game this year, was for you, Coach Pagano.