The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Green Bay Packers 31-26 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the term "learn" loosely):
Offense steps up when needed
Though it might not have been the best day for the Colts offense on Sunday, don’t let anyone tell you that it was a bad day. Andrew Luck’s two first quarter interceptions were bad, but outside of that it was a productive day offensively for Indianapolis. They racked up 24 points, 355 yards, converted 50% of their third down opportunities (7 of 14), and their only trip to the red zone without a score came when they were kneeling down to end the game. The Colts had three impressive touchdown drives too: a seven play, 62 yard drive, a 15 play, 96 yard drive, and a 6 play, 71 yard drive - plus an 8 play, 35 yard field goal drive. And when it mattered the most, the Colts offense stepped up.
The momentum had shifted firmly to the Packers side near the end of the fourth quarter, as the defense - which had a good day overall - gave up two easy scoring drives to make it a one-possession game. Everyone in the house knew that if the Packers offense got the ball back, they’d probably march right down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown, giving fans flashbacks to the Colts’ loss to the Texans earlier this year. And the Packers had the Colts offense facing a 3rd and 10 on that final drive with just a few minutes left to play, one down away from getting the ball back in Aaron Rodgers’s hands - but that’s when Andrew Luck worked some of his magic. Green Bay appeared to have another sack, but somehow Luck escaped the tackle and found Jack Doyle open downfield for a massive first down. That allowed more time to run off the clock, and then with the Colts facing one last 3rd down, Luck found T.Y. Hilton downfield to clinch the game. It was a big-time drive by the Colts to run out the clock, meaning their offense stepped up when it absolutely mattered the most.
Defense - particularly the corners - had a good day
If you had to pick a strength of the Colts defense this year (which certainly isn’t an easy task), you might point to the secondary (that’d be my answer, at least). There’s been some rough moments - like Antonio Cromartie’s first half against the Jaguars, some inconsistent play from Patrick Robinson, and T.J. Green’s season - but overall, guys like Vontae Davis, Darius Butler, Rashaan Melvin, and even Patrick Robinson recently have all stepped up. That was true on Sunday, as the Colts gave the Packers offense trouble and did a good job of covering the receivers - sometimes for longer periods of time as Aaron Rodgers tried to find someone open. Part of that is definitely due to the Packers offensive struggles and their wideouts, as anyone who’s watched Green Bay play this year can attest. But that doesn’t prevent us from giving credit to Indy’s secondary where it’s due, as the corners did a very good job. The play of the day for the unit was obviously Darius Butler’s diving interception, but it was representative of the Colts’ cornerbacks and the Colts’ defense on Sunday. It wasn’t a great performance, but for this defense, it was about as good as you can possibly expect. They bended, but they didn’t break - at least not until late in the game, at which point the offense sealed the deal by running out the clock with a few key first downs.
Pagano’s emphasis pays off
A big emphasis for Chuck Pagano and the Colts this week was playing strong in the first and last five minutes of each half - of course the focus was on putting together a complete 60 minute game, but those 20 minutes in particular were viewed as important, as it meant starting and finishing strong. The Colts certainly did that on Sunday. They got things started with a 99-yard kickoff return by Jordan Todman to begin the game, and then at the end of the first half they put together a massive touchdown drive. So in the first half, the Colts outscored the Packers 14-3 in the first and last five minutes. In the second half the Colts didn’t even get the ball in the first five minutes as the Packers opened the half with a long drive - but one that wound up in an interception, with no points. In the final five minutes of the half, the Colts gave up a touchdown to the Packers, but after that is when their offense notched a few huge third down conversions and sealed the game. So while the Colts only outscored the Packers 14-10 in those 20 minutes of game time, those 20 minutes were absolutely essential to the Colts’ victory. So perhaps Chuck Pagano’s emphasis actually was well-placed, for which he deserves some credit.