INDIANAPOLIS – In Sunday’s 34-28 win over Seattle, Indianapolis snapped 60 offensive plays. After only nine, the Colts were staring adversity squarely in the face.
Those opening plays gained nine yards and no first downs, and Pat McAfee’s third punt was blocked through the end zone. Undefeated Seattle led, 12-0.
Antoine Bethea motioned teammates together on the sideline to deliver a message. Indianapolis forced a three-and-out, then scored two quick touchdowns for a 14-12 lead.
After Seattle countered by taking a 25-17 advantage in the third quarter, the Colts scored 17 points and snuffed out two late drives to earn a comeback victory over a team that had won nine straight games.
The victory was the ninth comeback triumph in 21 outings under Chuck Pagano. It placed the Colts alone atop the AFC South five games into the season.
Here are FIVE THINGS LEARNED.
GRIT BEATS RABBITS – A heavyweight fight is not determined when one boxer pulls a rabbit out of the hat. It happens when he reaches inside and finds the extra something that has put him in the ring. The Colts have been relevant under Chuck Pagano, jumping nine games in the standings a year ago and now sitting among AFC leaders and on top of their division at 4-1. Pagano had his players at halftime, down 19-17, say they would run and tackle better in the second half. Eighty of 109 rushing yards followed, and the Colts defensively halved the Seahawks’ first-half ground total in the last 30 minutes. Holding Seattle to three field goals (the second with a defensive stand in Indianapolis territory after a turnover) was key, as were two late stops. The offense responded with 86- and 42-yard drives for 11 fourth-quarter points to earn the win. A true prize fight has both boxers landing blows. The one who summons the most wins. Out-pointed in early rounds, the Colts rose again with play from three units. “Nobody’s built better to win these close games, especially in the fourth quarter, than this team,” said Pagano. “(It’s) character, resiliency, toughness, grit, never quit, belief, faith. We’ve got something special.”
HILTON IS CENTRAL ELEMENT – Four plays after falling behind 12-0, T.Y. Hilton was in the end zone with a 73-yard grab (32 yards coming after the catch). On third-and-22 from the seven six minutes before the half, Hilton was interfered with and the Colts had 39 penalty yards. Hilton then had a 13-yard reception to convert another third down, leading to a half-ending field goal. Hilton’s lone third-quarter reception was a 29-yard TD strike. Early on the fourth-quarter 86-yard scoring drive, Andrew Luck targeted Hilton on third-and-10 from the 25. Interference, 16 yards. On second-and-11 from the 40, Hilton had a 13-yard catch. On third-and-eight from the Seattle 45, Luck found Hilton again for 12 more clutch yards. That was the last time Hilton was targeted, and he had done an afternoon’s work. On six targeted times, he had five receptions for 140 yards and two scores, his seventh 100-plus outing. Two penalties added 55 more yards, coming on drives that accounted for 11 points. Well done, #13.
FREEMAN FACTOR – Jerrell Freeman has been a disruptive presence all season. Strip-sacks against Miami and San Francisco made him the first Colts linebacker since 2004 not named Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis to have quarterback takedowns in consecutive games. The mobile Freeman tracked down Russell Wilson for no gain on third-and-two with seven minutes to go. The Colts were clinging to a 31-28 lead that was in doubt. Up 34-28, Freeman rushed Wilson into an interception with 1:23 left. Game-set-match, or, according to Reggie Wayne, “Ding, ding,” the bout was over and the referee held up the Colts’ hand. Either way, Freeman has had a telling hand in many plays. This is not something truly learned, just something cited as contributing factors in a big-time win.
A FEW GOOD MEN – Pagano has his men believing that every one of them can make a difference. Take bows Delano Howell and Lawrence Guy. Howell has started twice in place of LaRon Landry. He has made plays before, but his 61-yard return of a blocked field goal was a huge comeback impetus. The person who triggered it was Guy, who was signed recently to add depth to a thin defensive line. Howell had the eye candy with a great return (the third-longest in club history off a blocked field goal), but Guy provided the grit. Neither player garners a great deal of spotlight, but both’s professionalism created a big play Sunday against a team that excels on specialty units and against a kicker whose first miss of the year resulted in points for the opponent. While we’re at it, bow yourself Tom McMahon.
NO JUDGES – After two blowout wins by a 64-10 combined margin, the Colts were on the ropes down 12 and with a Seattle offense that had knifed for two scores and 92 yards on 13 snaps. Seattle would land more haymakers and Indianapolis would have to rally from behind most of the day. It did so on the one-year anniversary of the 30-27 comeback victory over Green Bay. That day a year ago was one of the most compelling in the club’s Indianapolis era, with its head coach in a hospital battling leukemia. Pagano was present Sunday to marshal another special victory. Outsiders tend to tune out themes used by coaches. Pagano’s players don’t. They live the themes and play them out on Sundays. It would have been easy to fold under pressure and deficits yesterday, but the Colts didn’t. Fans now have first place team (with 11 challenges ahead), one that hangs together.
Tags: Andrew Luck, antoine bethea, chuck pagano, Delano Howell, indianapolis colts, Jerrell Freeman, Lawrence Guy, pat mcafee, Reggie Wayne, robert mathis, T.Y. Hilton
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