It has long been known that the team that has the best shot at the Super Bowl isn't usually the best team overall but rather the team that gets hot at just the right time. With one week left in the regular season, the Colts are starting to get hot. I'm not saying that they have the best shot at the Super Bowl by any means, but what I am saying is that this was a phenomenal performance by the Colts and it was their second dominating win in a row.
This week, it was all about the defense.
The Chiefs - who entered the game not turning the ball over much - turned it over four times and the Colts also recorded 4 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 3 tackles for loss, and 7 pass deflections. They allowed just one score all day, and that was on the Chiefs first drive when Jamaal Charles easily sliced right through them. After that, however, the Chiefs began throwing the ball more and the Colts defense really stiffened up and the result was a 23-7 win in a huge game.
Let's look at today's game notes:
- Jerrell Freeman played a great overall game, notching 5 tackles, a sack, a QB hit, a forced fumble, 3 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions.
- Antoine Bethea played one of his best games of the season today and had a couple of his best plays of the year. On one play in particular he crushed Dwayne Bowe right after the Chiefs' receiver caught the ball and brought him down short of the first down line, which forced the Chiefs to punt.
- Bjoern Werner got a sack early, continuing to show improvement. It was a coverage sack, but it still counts nonetheless. The rookie first round pick still has just 2.5 sacks on the season, but he has 2 in the past 2 weeks. He is starting to show some encouraging signs of improvement.
- The biggest storyline from this game going forward could very well be the health of Cory Redding. He was playing well again today and has been all year, plus he is the leader of the defense. In the game today he suffered a left shoulder injury and didn't return. That really doesn't say much, as the Colts were winning big and had already wrapped up the division so it was smart not to bring him back, but it's still a concern. He was putting ice on it and getting it wrapped on the sidelines and was in obvious pain as soon as it happened, immediately signaling for the training staff. It will be very interesting and key to see the extent of his injury and it is very important that the Colts get him back for the playoffs. We should know more tomorrow. We got this encouraging (and awesome) update on Redding from the Indy Star's Stephen Holder after the game:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Cory Redding missed remainder of game with a shoulder injury but insisted he's fine. Said he could've finished w one arm if necessary.</p>— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) <a href="https://twitter.com/HolderStephen/statuses/414877860461936640">December 22, 2013</a></blockquote>
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- Adam Vinatieri missed his first field goal attempt, from 34 yards out, but finished the day by hitting his last three attempts - from 46, 45 and 30 yards out, respectively. He continues to be great on the season - even on a day where he missed a field goal, he still hit three and two of them were from 45+ yards - and keep in mind this was all on a very cold day. Not bad at all.
- Andrew Luck was 26/37 for 241 yards and a touchdown without a pick. It wasn't his best day statistically but it was still a good day for Luck and he played well. There were a few misses, but overall it was good. Luck hit a wide open T.Y. Hilton for a 31-yard gain, but if he had made a better pass it would have been a touchdown. A short while later, LaVon Brazill had a pass go off his hands on a pass that would have been a touchdown had he caught it. But overall, Luck played well and he led the Colts to a methodical attack that racked up 367 yards and put up 23 points on the Chiefs on the road. He also passed Peyton Manning for the second most passing yardage in a player's first two years in the league with 7,914 yards, putting him behind only Cam Newton, who threw for 7,920 yards in his first two years. With just 7 yards next week (maybe his first pass completion), Andrew Luck will pass Newton for first on that list.
- Donald Brown had a phenomenal game today, rushing 10 times for 79 yards and a touchdown, plus he had 2 catches for 31 yards and a touchdown. Overall, he gained 110 yards on 12 touches and scored two touchdowns. He took a short pass from Luck 33 yards for a touchdown on a great play by the running back and then Brown also made a tremendous play on a 51-yard draw play up the middle that involved some great moves and a great play to stay in bounds on his way to a touchdown. It was a great game from Donald Brown today, and it couldn't have come at a much better time for him. He has one regular season game left on his current contract with the Colts, and while he has had a very good year overall today was one of (if not THE) best day of the year for him so far and I, for one, think he should be re-signed this offseason.
- Griff Whalen was incredibly impressive today and looked like the receiver I thought he could potentially be when watching him in training camp. During his first stint with the team this year, he wasn't anything special, but today and last week as well he has been an added weapon for Luck. Today he led the Colts with 7 catches for 80 yards and also did a very nice job returning punts. In his first six games being active (before being released), Whalen caught 9 passes for 102 yards and no touchdowns. In his two games since being re-signed, he has caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, plus being a very good punt return option. He has been very good and a big surprise in the past two weeks. Today he showed more ability to get open and get in space than he did earlier this year, which was my biggest knock on him.
- The offensive line did a very good job today for being ravaged with injuries. They protected Andrew Luck well and they did open up some running lanes, too. Xavier Nixon looked good at guard, though he showed some room for improvement - which was absolutely to be expected. I don't know why it is - he's not the worst lineman the Colts have - but when Hugh Thornton is out of the lineup, the line seems to play better. It's likely just a coincidence, but it's something worth watching. For sure, if the Colts get both Jeff Linkenbach and Joe Reitz back healthy, I think they should both be starting at guard and that Mike McGlynn should be at center. Today, though, there wasn't anything the coaches could do and they really had no decisions to make - the injuries made the decisions for them. And the offensive line played as well as anyone could have reasonably expected today.
- Pat McAfee was tremendous today again. But you probably expected that. Oh, and he had a nice golf swing to celebrate a punt downed inside the 10, too.
- Despite not having the best stats (16 carries for 43 yards, 2.7 yards per carry; 3 catches for 15 yards), I thought that Trent Richardson ran hard today and played well. I know that the team didn't bring him in to do what he did today, but after struggling mightily early on, I think this is progress. At least he's looking better now when running the ball.
- Robert Mathis just continues to disrupt pretty much everything for offenses, and that was no different today. His best play of the day came when he had a great reach to hit the ball as Alex Smith was throwing and it resulted in a Jerrell Freeman interception. However, after watching the play again, it should be changed to a sack and a fumble instead of a pass deflection and interception. It's a weird-looking sack/fumble, but it should be that nonetheless - I think it will be changed later this week when it is reviewed. Mathis could really use that, too, as Robert Quinn of the Rams notched 3 sacks today to take the league lead with 18 on the year. Mathis, meanwhile, stays at 16.5, although as I already noted he may get another one added this week.
- Alright, everybody. Time to give Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff credit. I know we have been very critical of Chuck Pagano this year for some real stinkers especially from the defense, but today was great and the defense was dominant. If you are going to criticize Chuck Pagano for the defensive failures then you'd better give him credit for the defensive success. People who want to talk about how bad Chuck Pagano is will point to several games this year, and people who want to talk about how good Chuck Pagano is will point to several games this year (very much so including this one). I take the same position I've taken this entire season, and that is somewhere in the middle. He's not a great coach but he's not a terrible one either. This defensive performance DOES NOT eliminate any of the past failures this year. But it would also be incredibly unfair to not give him credit when his defense does indeed produce, and today they were great. And overall, his resume this year looks pretty good too - the Colts have won 10 games with a shot at 11, won the AFC South, and have wins over the San Francisco 49ers (10-4), Seattle Seahawks (12-2), Denver Broncos (12-3), and Kansas City Chiefs (11-4). By record, those are the four best teams the Colts have faced this year (although I think the Bengals are better than the Chiefs, but they don't have a better record). And the Colts are 4-0 in those games. Nobody will enter the playoffs with more big wins over great teams than the Colts. All of this doesn't negate the failures (and there have been MANY) nor does it negate the blowouts (there have been some really bad ones), but it does (hopefully) cause fans to look at the whole picture a bit more and it hopefully shows fans the exact reason why Chuck Pagano shouldn't be fired after this year - there's still hope there and it is way too early to give up. All things considered, I'm actually very pleased with Pagano overall this year. But that's a discussion for another time, and right now, let's give him credit for his defense today, which was about as dominant as it has been all season.
- These two teams could very well meet again in two weeks in Indianapolis in the playoffs, and the Chiefs will come out very much wanting revenge. The Colts will need to be ready for that - but at the same time, there's also no guarantee that they'll stay at the four seed. They still have a real shot at a first-round bye, and if the Ravens win out (beating the Patriots and the Bengals) and the Colts win next week, then they'll be the two seed. Basically, the seeding is still not decided, but the Chiefs will be the five seed. If the Colts finish with the four seed (where they are right now), then the Chiefs will come to Indy in the wild card round. And I really hope the Colts are as ready for that game as they were today.