Indianapolis Colts' Deji Karim, left, runs back a kickoff 101-yards for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Welcome back Chuck.
Today, the Colts won in their first game with Chuck Pagano back at the helm after three rounds of chemotherapy. They also prevented J.J. Watt, who looked unblockable against them three weeks ago, from breaking the single season sack record (22.5), from which he was only two away. Houston is now 0-11 in Indianapolis, and the Colts, who many expected to be cellar dwellers this season, are 11-5.
They had some savvy plays from Andrew Luck, and harassed Schaub in the pocket all day. They made just enough plays, plus a few incredible special teams plays to come away with another victory.
Andrew Luck had a good first half, and despite completing only 50% of his passes, had an impressive day overall against Houston’s suffocating defense, mixing in some nice check downs and intermediate passes to keep the Texans’ defense guessing. He also had what some called a gift when a sack-fumble was overturned by the tuck rule that would have given Houston the ball at the Colts 18-yard line Luck’s first half quarterback rating was 96.1 before the final drive (1/4, 9 yds), finishing the half with a respectable 80.9 rating and a 14-6 lead.
The most impressive thing about the rookie quarterback in this game was how he looked like a veteran before the snap. He varied his cadence, he had silent counts, he and even quick-snapped it a couple times, drawing penalties on the Texans and keeping their pass rushers tentative.
Penalties would make a difference the game, with the Colts playing a disciplined football game (3 penalties for just 24 yards), and the Texans finishing with nine penalties for 64 yards.
Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown to Coby Fleener to finish of Indianapolis’ first drive of the game, and then the defense went to work on the league’s sixth ranked scoring offense, holding Schaub and the Texans to two field goals in the first half.
After returning to their sputtering ways through the middle of the half, the offense managed to push the lead to 14-6 just ahead of the two-minute warning with a nice drive after one of Vontae Davis’ interceptions set them up with a short field. Luck, drawing the defense offside, appeared to throw a touchdown to T.Y. Hilton, but Hilton was ruled down at the one-yard line. Instead of challenging, Indianapolis chose to punch the ball in on the next play with Vick Ballard.
On the touchdown play, Colts backup linebacker Mario Harvey, as he did in several short yardage situations, lined up at fullback and made a savage lead block. Harvey looked as though he couldn’t wait to blow up a defensive player and had his man three yards deep in the end zone by the time Ballard forced his way across the plane.
In the second half, Houston came back out looking like they were going to take control of a close game. The Colts looked worn out on defense, and Arian Foster was running wild. Houston scored on a 13-yard run by Foster to pull to 14-13, then followed up with a 37-yard Shane Graham field goal to take a 16-14 lead after a three and out by the Colts offense.
Suddenly, Houston held a slim lead and all the momentum after rattling off 10 unanswered points. The Colts needed to do something to regain their edge. They needed a touchdown drive, or even a field goal drive, or…a kickoff returned for a touchdown. Deji Karim, who was watching games from his couch as recently as a month ago, took the ball right up the middle of the field untouched for a 101-yard touchdown. Karim had some excellent blocking in front of him, including a nice one to spring him by Mewelde Moore, who had such a miserable game the last time he played against the Texans.
At 21-16, though, the game was far from over. The Texans needed just one more touchdown drive to take back the lead, and the Colts offense was struggling.
Indy’s defense, however, was not going to let Pagano’s return end in a loss. The results of the Texans’ three drives after Karim’s touchdown were punt, missed field goal, and Vontae Davis’s second interception. Davis raced cleanly ahead of the receiver to catch the ball almost as though it were intended for him.
While the defense was putting a surprising crunch time chokehold on Houston, the Colts offense came back to life too. After two bad plays and a holding penalty negating a nice pass to Reggie Wayne, they faced a 3rd and 23 from their own 30-yard line. What came next was the highlight of the game: Luck had some decent protection as T.Y. Hilton raced downfield on a deep route. Luck hit him in stride with one of his most beautifully thrown passes of the year for a 70-yard touchdown and the final margin in the game, 28-16.
After Davis’s aforementioned interception, the Colts finished the Texans off with a 16-play 63-yard drive that ate up the final 9:46 off the clock. After eight straight runs, Luck hit Reggie Wayne for the game-icing first down at the Houston 14-yard line. Game over. The Colts would run out the clock with three kneel-downs and a standing ovation from the 87th consecutive sellout crowd.
Outgained by the Texans 352-265, the Colts managed to claw their way to a surprisingly convincing final margin and a win against a very quality opponent in Chuck Pagano’s first game back on the sidelines.
11-5. Playoff bound. No one outside of the Colts organization thought it was possible. They still didn’t do particularly well statistically, but this Colts team sure knows how to force their opponent to slog through an ugly, physical game. And in an ugly, physical game, my money is on Indianapolis. I just didn’t’ think I’d be saying that for a couple more years.
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I kept a copy of Lucks first game this year (Bears) and compared it to this game and the changes are stark. The first game, of course, he was giddy and nervous and throwing here and there. And the Bears were savage on D. But more importantly, on this game, he is very calm now. He walks up to the line. Looks around. Changes his snap count. Stands up sometimes (a la Peyton) and looks around. Changes the play. He has a ways to go, but has improved remarkably. His look off of TY Hilton before the throw was perfect.
In the Cowboys game last night, when Romo hit Witten for the TD, I swear Romo stood for 20 seconds behind his line, waiting for a receiver to come open. Now I know the 'Skins only rushed three, and it was probably more like 8 seconds. But man, if we can get a decent OLine, it helps with runs and with just time in the pocket.
Look at Peyton and how very well he's doing with a good OLine and a great run game. I used to laugh at Decker three (or two?) years ago when it was Tebow and Decker would drop one ball after another. He had longer hair then and it hung out of his helmet so I kept thinking "C'mon man, cut your hair and catch those throws". Well he's cut his hair, and with a better QB he's making some remarkable catches. I'm hoping with Luck's improvement, a better Oline - we should be doing well next year.
And we've got a couple of good corners in Butler and Davis, along with Bethea as a safety. Defense is not great, but good enough. Hell, even Jerry Hughes is contributing!
Best thing for me no PICKS by Luck in the past 3 weeks, that is key going into the playoffs and into the future, good game all around from everyone.
Also would just like to say what Watt does is unreal, there is no way he should be in the backfield that fast that often.
@paulcareyjr I was thinking that too, although the one play where the defender jumped the route too soon would have been a pick 6. We got lucky there. Luck still does his Ben impersonation too often.
@buymymonkey Way too often... he did get rid of the ball a lot quicker yesterday, especially in the first drive, it was a bright sight to see.
To anybody who said that Special Teams were not important. You may need to rethink that thought. The Colts played Big Boy football today to close out the game. I have enjoyed this team more than any other that I can remember. This played hard for an entire 60 minutes again. The Colts have a chance to beat the Ravens.
I put together these notes on Hilton just now:
T. Y. Hilton finished the season 2nd among rookie receivers in yards (861, just 4 shy of Blackmon's 865), 1st in touchdowns (7), 1st in YPC (17.2, min. 2 receptions... seriously, there are three guys above him in that stat with 1 catch, then he comes in with 50 catches), T-3rd in receptions, and no fumbles.
To me, that's pretty impressive, especially considering his draft position. And yes, I'm aware these aren't advanced stats, but production is production, and he's been bringin' it. Can't wait to see him with 10+ more pounds of muscle next year.
@TheGreatMisdirect Yup, very impressive, I think when he becomes a better short route runner and gets better hands he will be very good.
What I do is force him to watch tape of Harrison during the offseason, he could really take some valuable things from his game.
I'm with you on the production stats. He's been impressive. I don't know that he's number one receiver material, but then again, people used to say that about Reggie Wayne.
Also, he had a catch rate of 54.9, which is about the same as Lucks completion percentage and slightly better than veteran big play threat, Mike Wallace's catch rate (54%). That's pretty darn good for a rookie, especially one who is running so many deep routes.
Now, if only when he gains a few pounds of muscle, he could grow a few inches.........
Is this the 4th game in a row that the D gave up one TD? I can't wait for Nate to write how we have the worst D in the league. He has all the stats to back him up too!
You nailed it. They did the same thing to Buffalo, too, so it's 5 out of the last 6 games.
Nate's right that they aren't good. I think if they were truly abysmal though, they would make some of these bad offenses they've faced look a lot better.