Well, that was quite unexpected. And a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
The Colts backed up their performance from a week ago with an even better one, making Peyton Manning look very ordinary, on their way to a 24-13 win over the Broncos Sunday afternoon, punching their ticket to the AFC Title game for the first time in five seasons. I'll be honest: I didn't think they had a game like this in them. The Colts played exceptionally well on both sides of the ball, especially on Defense, and the Colts controlled the game from about midway through the first quarter through the end of the game. Eleven points was closer than what the game was: Domination.
The game didn't start off all that well, with the Colts going Three and Out, then looking like they got the Broncos to go Three and Out before Arthur Jones stumbled on his way to Manning and got a (correct) Roughing the Passer called on him. The Broncos drove right down the field, finishing with a Demaryius Thomas TD. In one of the few hiccups by the Colts Defense, they lined up LaRon Landry on Thomas. I saw it immediately, they showed Manning audible out of whatever play they originally had, and I knew it was all over at that point. It was Landry's second bad play on that drive (Julius Thomas beat him on a wheel route earlier in the drive), and it unfortunately wasn't the last, as he really struggled on the evening. The coaching staff said he "earned" his starting spot back. He didn't back up their decision tonight.
We've talked extensively here about the turnover problem the Colts have had all year, but Sunday afternoon was different. Yes, Andrew Luck threw two interceptions, but they paled in comparison to the strip/sack by Jonathan Newsome of Manning. Why? Both interceptions were on 3rd and longs, deep in their own territory, and both of them were almost 40 yards down the field. All Luck was doing was letting Pat McAfee keep his leg fresh on the sideline rather than come on the field. The oft-used "Arm Punt." It's very unfortunate that we have to see things like this coming from the media members in Indianapolis about what's going on on the field, but I digress. If you could classify a Turnover as "good", these two would qualify, and really played no factor in the outcome of the game. In all honesty, Landry's missed tackle on C.J. Anderson on 4th and 1 was way worse. It directly cost the Colts three points.
The Colts made big news even before the game starting, making RB Trent Richardson a healthy scratch, a stunning decision for a team that steadfastly stood behind the "rolling ball of butcher knives." How did Dan Herron backup the coaches' decision? For the second straight game he led the Colts in both rushing yards and receptions, despite an injured shoulder from the first quarter. Want to know how rare that is? According to Elias, only four other players in NFL history did so in each of their first two postseason games and it's an impressive group: Lydell Mitchell, Marcus Allen, Terrell Davis, and Frank Gore. Add in some good contributions by Zurlon Tipton, and it certainly appears to be the beginning of the end for Richardson in Indianapolis. Maybe they let him play out the rest of the season to see if he could figure things out. He clearly didn't, and I give credit to the staff for putting the best 45 available on the field to win.
Who was the best Colt yesterday amongst a bunch of really good choices? It was clearly Vontae Davis, who save a dropped interception in the 4th quarter played nearly perfect. From Matt Conti of Colts Communications:
. @vontaedavis finished w/ 5 passes defensed yesterday, which is the most in a postseason game dating back to 1/18/04 (Ricky Manning Jr., 5)— Matt Conti (@ColtsConti) January 12, 2015
Ryan Grigson should be lambasted for the Trent Richardson trade (and half of me thinks a good part of that deal was from above him, but that's for another day), but he stuck his neck out for Davis once by trading for a malcontent with a bunch of talent, and then a second time this offseason paying him significant money. He's been worth every penny to the Colts and then some. He's just been phenomenal all season, and Sunday was just spectacular.
How did the stats come out for Sunday? Let's jump in to see what a winning Divisional weekend looks:
Non-Adjusted Stats for the Divisional Round:
|Statistic||Offense||Rank||Defense||Rank||Off/Def Above||Off/Def Below||Record|
|Orange Zone Eff||68.6%||3||61.9%||5||N||N||1-0|
|Avg Start Pos||30.9||2||24.7||2||Y||N||3-0|
|3 and Outs||3||5||4||1||Y||N||2-0|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.944||6||0.118||8||N||Y||0-3|
|Ranking - Week (8)||6||1||1|
|Ranking - Season (528)||216||139||133|
Adjusted Stats for the Divisional Round:
|Statistic||Offense||Rank||Defense||Rank||Off/Def Above||Off/Def Below||Record|
|Orange Zone Eff||60.7%||4||50.9%||3||N||N||1-0|
|Avg Start Pos||31.2||2||23.3||2||Y||N||3-0|
|3 and Outs||1.7||4||4.3||1||Y||N||2-0|
|Penalty Yds / Play||1.032||6||0.033||8||N||Y||0-3|
|Ranking - Week (8)||5||1||1|
|Ranking - Season (528)||126||63||38|
- The Colts played the best Defensive game of the entire weekend (and actually, the Broncos were #2), and the gap wasn't even remotely close to everyone else. The Colts were at about 66.5% of a "perfect" game, the Broncos at 45.5%, with the Patriots next at 40%, which shows you just the wide gap. Offense definitely won the first three games, but Defense won the last one.
- I'm going to start on 3rd/4th down, at just 28% (and that's high, thanks Landry), but when adjusted for how good the Broncos have been all season it ranks as a top 10% Playoff game since 2001 at 22.5%. How do you win games against very good Offenses? Get them off the field on 3rd/4th down, and the Broncos were just 5/18. Fantastic.
- Another historically good effort? Yards per Drive and Yards per Play, ranking 38th and 23rd in Playoff games respectively since 2001 (302 games). That Yards per Play stat wasn't without trying though by the Broncos, but they couldn't connect on any deep throws, completing just two passes over 15 yards down the field.
- The Penalties were really dumb and thankfully didn't hurt the Colts, but they really didn't hurt the Seahawks or Packers either, who struggled with penalties while their opponent did not. Just a weird weekend.
- The Offense had moments of sputtering, but I can't think of anything that was a glaring issue. I already talked about the Turnovers and how they mattered very little, so that will knock the overall stat performance down. I thought they played pretty well.
- They took advantage of the weak Orange/Red Zone Defenses this week, so don't pay attention to the ranking, as both of the actual stats are very good, and it just means other teams were equally as good scoring TDs. I did think about that watching. Very few field goals this weekend. Probably because we saw eight of the best QBs in the league playing.
- A RB Success Rate at 50% I'll take, especially when a bunch of them came on the eight minute soul-crushing drive in the 4th quarter that put the game away (5 out of 9). You can put that drive up there with the 4th quarter drive against Baltimore in 2006 as a couple of the best game-winning drives in Colts history. That's when you need the running game to come through, and they absolutely did.
- The next time anyone wants to bring up rushing > passing, I'm just going to point to this weekend. If these four games don't convince you what wins in the NFL, it's hopeless. The (arguably) best four QBs in the NFL are playing next weekend after winning this weekend, all on their backs. In all four games, a team was above average on both Offense and Defense in Yards per Carry. THEY ALL LOST.
Season Stats through the Divisional Round:
|Orange Zone Eff||57.4%||10||Broncos||58.5%||25||Bengals||74-24||0.755|
|Avg Start Pos||30.6||13||Dolphins||27.6||3||Seahawks||125-20||0.862|
|3 and Outs||3.92||22||Dolphins||4.86||3||Broncos||78-31||0.716|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.778||11||Jaguars||0.775||21||Redskins||72-46||0.610|
- Overall, the 1st (Seahawks), 3rd (Packers), 4th (Patriots), and 6th (Colts) best teams are still playing. It might be the best four, according to the Winning Stats, that have made the Final Four (I'll check this week).
- Both Rushing categories are now below .500 for the season, while Passing / Stopping the Pass wins at 91%. They speak for themselves.
This was the 22nd Playoff game the Colts have played since 2001. It ranked as the 4th best game overall, and probably the 2nd most balanced game behind the 2009 Ravens game. The Colts didn't have to play perfect (see the missed tackles, dropped passes, penalties), but they dominated a superior team, on the road, something we certainly haven't seen this season, and maybe have seen once before from this group of guys (SF last season). They put back-to-back games together against Playoff teams, and beat a team with a legitimate QB.
Enjoy this win, as it is very satisfying, and get ready for one more week of Colts football, just a step away from the Super Bowl. If we see the team we've seen the last two weeks, they can win next weekend in Foxboro. I can't wait to see it.