The fact that the Indianapolis Colts found themselves in an AFC Divisional Playoff game after starting the season 1-5 is incredible. There were plenty of excuses built-in to allow the 2018 season to be a write-off, including a group of rookie coaches in their respective roles, Andrew Luck coming off of missing an entire season and a shoulder surgery that threatened his career, and a franchise that was clearly in rebuilding mode after second-year General Manager Chris Ballard initiated phase two of his presumed three- or four-year plan.
The 2018 NFL Draft changed all of that for Indianapolis. The team’s top two picks were both name First-Team All-Pros as rookies, with Darius Leonard earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and the rest of the class out-produced any reasonable expectations. As the season wore on, the schedule did get lighter, but the young nucleus of the team also started to come together.
Back-to-back wins against AFC South opponents, part of a 4-game division winning streak, led Indianapolis past the Wild Card round and on to face what was perhaps the hottest team in the NFL early in the regular season, the Kansas City Chiefs. Playing games on the road, in winter, in an outdoor stadium, with one of the loudest fan bases in the NFL isn’t exactly an ideal backdrop. Still, the Colts had won 10 of their last 11 games and the rest of the league had been put on notice that defeating the Luck-led Colts wouldn’t be easy — no matter the venue.
Perhaps it should have been a sign for my wife and I as we packed up our car and made our way west down I-70 to support the Colts. The weather forecast called for blizzard-like conditions but if you’ve lived in the Midwest very long, it’s hard to take these forecasts seriously. Over the last week, rain has been forecast at more than 80 or 90 percent likelihood and not a single drop fell.
Unfortunately, the forecasts were right this time around and we found ourselves creeping across the state of Missouri for the big game. Another sign may have been that it appeared the Missouri state highway service teams were no where to be found. Snow quickly covered the interstates and the only snow plows we saw were heading in the other direction. Some welcome.
This didn’t stop us from finally making our way to our hotel, after spending 8 hours driving through the state of Missouri alone.
The next morning, we were ready for cold a potentially snowy game and had done enough to prepare ourselves for the conditions that we spent hours in a snow covered parking lot tailgating with other Colts fans before the game.
Once inside the stadium, it was clear that Chiefs fans had earned their reputation. Even walking to our seats there were large groups of fans breaking out into the tomahawk chop war cry that echoed through the corridors. Fans loved talking trash before the game and were proud to heckle any Colts fans they saw.
Once in our seats, the stadium really came to life. It is incredible how loud Arrowhead Stadium gets and how much the fans are able to sustain a high level of energy. They were coming in with every intention of blowing out the Colts. We were smug in our belief that Indianapolis could silence the crowd and put the Chiefs down. They threw snowballs.
What happened over the next four quarters was frustrating. The Colts offense appeared entirely out of sync. The Chiefs defense looked like one of the toughest units the team had faced all year. The Chiefs offense was as advertised, using different weapons to march down the field. The ground game chewed through a defense that had shut out the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott less than a month before.
The nature of this beat down was hard to swallow after all we had gone through to get there. It had to have been even worse for a team who went through so much early in the season.
That loss will be fresh in the minds of every returning player when the Colts return to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs on Sunday, October 6th for Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season. If that isn’t enough, former Chiefs star Justin Houston will be returning for the first time after the team decided to turn the page on defense.
If anything reliable can be taken from the 2018 NFL season in the AFC, it is that the Colts and Chiefs may establish one of the conference’s biggest rivalries during Luck’s and Mahomes’ respective careers. It isn’t hard to imagine that these teams will play exciting football and will duel it out for a chance to represent the AFC in future Super Bowls. The first round went to the Chiefs but an angry Adam Vinatieri, spurned Justin Houston, reinforced offense and a Maniac out for revenge will enter Arrowhead on a mission.
This could be one of the very best regular season games on the NFL slate and will draw a lot of eyes for Sunday Night Football.