D'Qwell Jackson, Colts' defense steps up when it counts
Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has been one of the most maligned players on the Colts' roster in the past year and a half, and despite his tackle numbers and Pro Bowl appearance a year ago most people realized that he has struggled at times. He's a solid player in certain contexts, but he's limited. On Sunday, however, he stepped up and played a huge part in the Colts' win, one of the most impactful games he has had since signing with Indy last year. Jackson recorded seven tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception returned for a touchdown, and a fumble recovery. Jackson really stepped up in this game, particularly in the fourth quarter when he recorded his pick-six and his sack. His biggest play, though, was the interception that tied the game up. With the Colts trailing 21-14 early in the fourth quarter and with the offense having just punted again, the team was in need of a spark. The Falcons were backed up against their own end zone thanks to Pat McAfee and Donte Moncrief, and Matt Ryan ran a play action pass. Jackson bit on it initially, and he recalled thinking "oh shit!" as he realized it was a pass. He dropped back into coverage and Ryan didn't see him, throwing it right to him. It was an easy catch and run into the end zone from there as the Colts tied it up.
From there, the defense did their part. The offense wouldn't score for the rest of the game (not doing much beside setting up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal) but the defense made sure that it didn't matter. The Falcons had the ball for five different drives in the fourth quarter but managed just 51 yards combined on 19 plays, punting three times and throwing two interceptions (one on a Hail Mary to end the game). In fact, the last seven drives the Falcons had during the game ended in no score. Furthermore, in a game in which the Colts turned the football over three times, the defense held the Falcons to zero combined points off of those turnovers. Yes, they allowed three scoring drives of 80+ yards, but overall the Colts' defense played well and stepped up when it counted, with no one doing that more than D'Qwell Jackson.
Resiliency of this team is to be praised
We could talk about how the Colts continue to fall behind big in games, but that's an old story by now. I'm pretty sure everyone knows that the Colts have a problem with starting slow, and that was evident again on Sunday. But let's look at Sunday's game from a different perspective: this is a resilient team. Again, this doesn't excuse them for their early struggles, but understand that double-digit comebacks aren't common in the NFL. Perhaps Colts fans don't realize this as much after watching Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck play, but this isn't common. In Sunday's game, the Colts fell behind by 14 points on two separate occasions (14-0, 21-7). The Colts were playing with their backup quarterback. They were on the road. They suffered injuries to their best cornerback, best offensive lineman, and best running back during the game. They turned the football over three times. And yet they clawed their way back into the game, thanks in large part to unexpected contributors like D'Qwell Jackson. An Adam Vinatieri game-winning field goal sealed the victory, giving the Colts yet another double-digit comeback. I know that Chuck Pagano has received a lot of (just) criticism recently, but let's give credit where it's due: Pagano has led his team to a 3-0 record without their franchise player. It's been a rough year for the Colts, but their resiliency after losing Luck and falling behind early on Sunday on the road should be praised and noted.
Looks don't matter: a win is a win
A lot of talk recently has been centered around which four teams should make the college football playoff, and that has led to wins of contenders being heavily scrutinized. Winning isn't enough; you have to win very impressively. But in the NFL, style points don't matter. Wins are what get you into the postseason, and if the Colts keep winning, they'll get there. They remain in first place in the AFC South after their victory over the Falcons, even though it wasn't the most impressive victory. The Colts fell behind by 14 points at two different points (14-0 and 21-7), turned the football over three times, committed seven penalties, compiled just 276 total yards of offense, allowed a couple of sacks, and managed just 2.7 yards per carry. They gave up three scoring drives of 80+ yards and allowed Julio Jones to catch nine passes for 160 yards. But the Colts stepped up when it mattered. Matt Hasselbeck led a big touchdown drive before halftime. D'Qwell Jackson picked off a pass and returned it for a score. The defense made some key stops late. Adam Vinatieri hit the 43-yard game-winning field goal. The Colts won, and a win is a win. They desperately needed a victory today, as a loss would have dropped them out of first place in the division with six games to go. The win evened their record up at 5-5, however, and kept them in first place. An ugly win? In the words of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck after the game, it "doesn't (bleeping) matter."