The Colts moved to 1-0 and won an opener for the first time since 2009 by topping Oakland Sunday, 21-17. A 14-point advantage melted to a three-point deficit, but both units made plays when it mattered the most.
The Colts had not won a season opener since 2009, and it took to the final seconds on Sunday to decide a battle with Oakland that Indianapolis led from the outset and for most of the way.
The Colts bolted to a 14-0 lead after two possessions on drives of 89 and 69 yards, but they were facing a Raiders team that kept the pressure on with a mobile quarterback, a power running back and a defense that applied pressure on four straight possessions.
Andrew Luck scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 19-yard run with 5:20 remaining. The Indianapolis defense had a well-timed sack by Robert Mathis and a red-zone interception by Antoine Bethea in the last half-minute as the Colts won a ninth straight time in games decided by seven points or less.
Here are FIVE THINGS LEARNED.
ANDREW LUCK IS SPECIAL – Obvious, yet too important not to mention. Luck hit his first 11 passes for 127 yards and two TDs, converting the first two drives with third-down completions. He found six different receivers in that streak, including Reggie Wayne six times for 72 yards and a touchdown (a 12-yard beauty in tight coverage). Luck endured four straight drives where the Colts could muster no points, and Oakland pressure was making things tough. Once in that span, Luck bolted for a nine-yard, first-down-producing run after being hit in the pocket (for the game he was sacked four times and Oakland was credited with eight hits). With Dwayne Allen out and the Raiders having taken their first lead with 11:09 remaining, Luck took the Colts 80 yards in 11 plays, capping the decisive march with a 19-yard run. Luck ran only after going through his reads, and the touchdown happened with good downfield blocking. He converted three third downs on the drive – 12-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-eight; nine-yard pass to Wayne on third-and-two; the scoring run on third-and-four. Luck has eight comeback wins in 17 career games. In a league where the quarterback position is becoming more diverse (ie: Terrelle Pryor), talents like Luck are timeless.
TURNOVERS TELL KEY – Chuck Pagano saw his defense create only 15 takeaways last year. His target is a plus-two margin per game. He says teams doing that over the past decade or so win at an 82-to-83 percent clip. The Colts were plus-two with end-zone and red-zone swipes by Greg Toler and Antoine Bethea. Toler’s came on a game-opening Oakland march and set the table for the Colts’ first scoring drive. Bethea’s slammed the door on the afternoon after Indianapolis had rallied to re-take the lead. Since 1998, the Colts are 43-3 (44-8 counting the playoffs) when not turning the ball over. Luck and company protected it well, and Indianapolis is 5-0 under Luck when not coughing up the ball. Indianapolis is on a three-game regular-season streak without having a turnover. The last time that happened was in 2008.
MORE WORK NEEDED ON READ-OPTION – Sunday was test one for the Colts against this threat. Terrelle Pryor ran for 112 yards and helped Oakland convert seven-of-13 third-down attempts. He converted six with passes and one with a 26-yard rush. Pryor produced five of the Raiders’ 20 overall first downs via rushes, including a 29-yard effort in the first half. Six of his 12 carries produced at least seven yards. With Colin Kaepernick (22 rushing yards; 412 passing yards Sunday) and Russell Wilson (320 passing yards) looming in the next four games, defending this will be on the preparation checklist. Pryor’s 112 yards marked the first time in franchise history an opposing QB topped the century mark on the ground. When things go from structure to sandlot, danger can follow. The heartening bottom-line is the Colts made the plays to win. A second plus was holding Darren McFadden to a 2.8 average on 17 rushes. Indianapolis was on-point with him.
SECONDARY PAYS DIVIDENDS – Greg Toler and Antoine Bethea had interceptions that staved off scores and won the game, respectively. LaRon Landry was credited 15 tackles, 10 solo, and a pass defensed. Landry was physical and played sideline-to-sideline. The effort the franchise has taken to bolster this area paid dividends Sunday, and it likely will do so moving ahead. Toler is solid in coverage.
RUSHING GAME PROSPERS – Vick Ballard had a 4.8 average on 13 attempts. Ahmad Bradshaw got his first work and had 26 yards on seven carries. Andrew Luck supplemented the effort fabulously, and not always as a first option. Chuck Pagano said before the game a 5.0 average for a season would “lead the world.” Only 12 times in the club’s local era has it averaged 4.0 per rush in a season and once (1985) it hit the 5.0 mark. The team’s 4.9 average Sunday was a very good first effort. A 26-rush, 27-pass attempt blend was right on prescription, too.
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