It was a game they weren't supposed to win, in a season in which they weren't supposed to win many. As Adam Vinatieri's meaningless - unless the Colts wind up in some bizarre tie break situation - yet mandated extra point sailed through the uprights, the Colts completed their second improbable comeback of the 2012 season.
The defense performed well for a unit that gave up 33 points. Sure, they were dominated by Calvin Johnson, but who isn't? Outside of Johnson's 13 for 171 and a TD display of man-beast, the Colts held the Lions to 175 yards in the air, and 138 - 67 of which came on one 4th-quarter run - on the ground. For an offense that ranks near the top of every statistical category? That's not too bad.
And consider this: Andrew Luck and the Colts offense turned the ball over 3 times on Sunday. The Colts defense allowed those turnovers to lead to three points. And here's another one for you: The Lions started 6 drives at their own 40 or better, and only scored 10 points - total - on those drives.
The Colts defense was put in numerous bad situations against a dangerous, explosive offense, and held their own. When you consider all the factors: first year in a new scheme, lack of young 3-4 talent, and injuries to Nevis, Moala, Powers, Chapman, and Zbikowski, the Colts' defensive performance wasn't all that bad.
On offense, they struggled all day to find a rhythm. The offensive line was dominated by their Detroit counterparts - Joe Reitz and Winston Justice leaving with concussions surely didn't help - and the resulting pressure prevented Luck and the Colts offense from stringing together successful drives - through the first 57 minutes.
Sure, there were flashes of brilliance: Luck and Hilton hooking up for a pretty 60-yard catch-and-run, a beautiful, "waiting-to-exhale" TD throw-and-catch from Luck-to-Fleener, and a "big boy style" TD march down the field on their first series of the 3rd quarter, in which Vick Ballard ran for 38 of his 41 yards and his first rushing TD of the year.
But between those flashes the Colts mixed in heavy doses of frustration: sacks, QB hits, interceptions, 3-and-outs. Halfway through the 4th quarter, the Colts appeared well on their way to 7-5 on the back of another dismal road performance.
When the Colts took the field with 4:02 left in the game, Andrew Luck was 17/40, 279yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 2sacks, 0 rushing yards, and had just thrown his third interception of the game through 19 minutes and 42 seconds of possession. Over the next two drives, he would go 7/14 for 112 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks, 3 rushes for 33 yards, and he drew a 15-yard horse collar tackle. All in the span of 2minutes and 30 seconds.
As is the case with their remarkable, somewhat magical 8-4 record, there is little logical explanation for the Colts' sudden, drastic in-game turnaround. When asked how the Colts were able to earn this victory, Luck offered only that it was a total team effort, that the Colts fought for 60-minutes, and that they never gave up.
On second thought, perhaps - cliched as it sounds - that is our answer.
It's often said by players, pundits, prognosticators (hat tip to Mr. Polian), journalists, and experts that teams take on the personality of their coach. We, as fans - and perhaps even the players, to some degree - have not yet been able to get to know Chuck Pagano, the coach. But through his bout with leukemia, we have learned quite a bit about Pagano, the man: he's a fighter, he's tough, he never gives up, he doesn't care about odds or circumstances, he has a goal, a vision, and he won't give up until he makes that vision a reality.
Remind you of any... football team?
By now you might be wondering to yourself, "self, why would Greg choose this title for this column?" Fair question. First, it's provocative, and I love page hits. Second, last Monday, Vince Verhei of FootballOutsiders.com wrote an "insider" article for ESPN.com in which he called the Colts playoff pretenders. I had decided that, win or lose, I would address the Verhei article in my Lions wrap-up column.
I was ready to discuss Verhei's cherry-picked stats, the lack of context for many of his criticisms, and the fact that many of the stats he used weren't, in fact, all that statistically significant to begin with. But as the Colts were dancing on the field, as my own screams and shakes had subsided, as I was able to take in what had just happened, I realized... it didn't matter.
What the Indianapolis Colts have done this year - bettering their 2011 win total by at least 6 games on the field, increasing leukemia awareness nationwide and maintaining the strong community values they showed in the previous era off the field, and kicking cancer's butt in the hospital - goes beyond stats. It goes beyond being "playoff pretenders" (someday someone will have to explain term to me, by the way, are the Bengals and Steelers real contenders? Are the Ravens? Are the Bears, Seahawks, on-and-off again Giants and 49ers? Let me know, Mr. Verhei). It even goes beyond their strength of schedule.
It goes to the strength of their character, of their will, of their team.
The Colts did more than just honor Chuck Pagano when they shaved their heads on November 6th, they also took on his appearance. After standing together, fighting as a team, and never quitting against the Lions, the Colts showed that they had taken on his personality, as well.
Are the Colts play-off worthy? They shouldn't be. But like their coach, they don't know how to quit.
And from reader Jordan, re-live the Colts late-game magic, Tecmo Bowl Style
@CA_Radio @drmustache guess I don't understand the question... What stat is luck missing? Comp. % ?? INT's??
@CA_Radio See, but Luck does have stats: Air Yards, no YAC, 3rd down%. And per FO, he has less support from D/running game.
Do you know the best part of the 2012 Colts? That none of it mattered for me.
The Colts could have gone 4-12, but if Andrew Luck and some of the other rookies played well, I wouldn't have cared too much. Instead, they are 8-4 and Andrew Luck looks great, and the other rookies by and large look quite good as well.
The rest of the season is gravy for me. I don't care that the Colts pulling out these games in the regular season just makes it more and more certain that the Colts are set up to be blasted 34-13 in the playoffs. Who cares, really? This season wasn't about the playoffs. I don't care if the Colts are playoff pretenders in 2012. I never expected them to be 'playoff anything' in 2012.
My only hope is that we draw Baltimore. I still think the Pats lose one of the next two games, and the Broncos win out and get the #2 seed. My guess is the Colts end up with the #5 seed, which is probably a draw against Baltimore. Please let this happen.
@dmstorm22 I was the same way (the season not mattering outside of just wanting Luck and some of the rookies to do well) until the Dolphins win. After that I became fully invested in a good season. Now it sucks. The yelling, screaming, nutjobbing is back. :(
I need professional help.
I'm not going to be terribly disappointed if they get to the playoffs and lose their first game, but, by now, I'm expecting more from this group than "just" a playoff berth, because anything less than believing this group has a fighting chance against anyone just isn't giving them the respect they've earned.
What do people think of the play calling? Given our struggling OL I wonder why Arians seems to like the going for deep throws so much. We've won 8 games so obviously it works, but it seems that more of a westcoast approach with quick passes would be better suited to our team than the vertical stretch game.
@hankster BA's play calling bothers me. I like him, and I think he's doing a good job with all the young guys, but his in game decisions are questionable sometimes, at best, and that's more than just the play calls that never work or calling the defensive coordinator on the other side of the field to tell him what the play is going to be (it's so painfully obvious when we're going to run and pass that you can see it from the parking lot). He's terrible managing the clock unless the Colts just flat out need to score ASAP, both from the standpoint of timeouts and situational play calls.
I can't, for the life of me, figure out why some people seem to think he's going to be a head coach next year. He makes me think of Sorgi, someone that can hold the fort, does a lot of good things, but someone you wouldn't want to hand the franchise to.
@Mattrellen I've talked with some Steelers fans and they generally had the same criticisms of his play calling, but the same praise of his relationships with the players.
Maybe Luck will be ready to run the no huddle himself in a year or two and we won't have to worry about BA's play calling any more. A fan can dream right?
@pierrezombie @hankster @GregC He did go to Cleveland to be OC. They went to the playoffa with the famous Kelly Holcomb at QB subbing for Tim Couch.
@pierrezombie Good point. The fact that it works suggests that it could be done at least in small doses.
I don't really know anything about Pagano. The Ravens don't run the no huddle, but the team's focus in on defense not offense, so that doesn't tell you much.
What do you think the long term plan for the team is? I'm hoping for the renewal of an offensive juggernaut.
Does anyone know if that is the teams plan?
@pierrezombie he was supposedly let go because people inside the Pittsburgh Organization felt he was more concerned with puffing up Roethlisberger's stats via the deep ball than running a balanced NFL offense.
source: I read twitter
@hankster The problem with the theory that the rest of the roster can't handle it is the evidence of their performance this year *while they were running it* -- not only capable, but in most cases far better than when running their conventional offense. Which, of course, is crazy: rookie WR's and a bunch of cast-off and backup O linemen shouldn't be able to do that, but they're doing it.
Which is why I wish they (Arians/Pagano?) would let them do it more... or at least try it in small doses. Why not come out in it for the first drive of a second half or something, instead of saving it for desperation time?
@GregC I'm wondering if there's some history to go on with this question. For example, why was Arians the OC/QB coach for Manning for only his first year? Let go or lured away?
And what's your best guess as to why he was sent packing from Pittsburgh? Perhaps because he wasn't adaptable/flexible enough in his system or philosophy, despite Roethalkjalkdfjalkjewinviefeger's support?
@GregC @pierrezombie @Mattrellen Me too. I would assume it has more to do with the rest of the team which is quite young and hasn't played together much. Look at Manning in Denver, even there it has taken half a season to put together.
I do hope that going no huddle continuously is in the cards. On the downside I don't think that is part of BA philosophical approach to offence. Hopefully I'm wrong.
That's the thing: I don't see any signs that Luck isn't ready NOW. If anything, he thrives on being in the moment, making it up as he goes, thinking faster than anyone else on the field (a'la #18) -- as that last drive on Sunday proved in spades.
Which, as was alluded to on the post-game Whatever The Hell Check It To Pancakes Is Called Now podcast, suggests that maybe it's Arians who isn't ready for it. Or, perhaps more generously, the rest of the offense not named Reggie Wayne or Donald Brown.
@hankster Not a fan. I like down-field passing, but wish they'd develop some more intermediate attacks.
I hope we get Baltimore first in the Playoffs, I think that we have the best chance to beat them, other than that, the Broncos would be next, would be cool to see Manning vs Luck in the first year.
Right now I expected the Colts to be 7-5, they have really put together a good season, and have came along, that game was out of our hands the entire time, but effort pulled us through, so happy about that...
@paulcareyjr Also, I am one of the few who don't want to see a Denver v Indy matchup in the playoffs. And that's less because of Luck and Peyton and more because it'd be Peyton vs. this 1st year defense that ranks 32nd in efficiency as measured by DVOA. And I just cannot bear to hear the screaming of the lambs during slaughter (Hannibal Lecter'd). :-S
@AJ_ @paulcareyjr It's kind of a lose-lose. Either way, either Peyton or the squad is making a first round exit if that happens. I'd much prefer DEN winning out and getting a bye. If we play them second round (or if the impossible happens and play them in the AFC Championship), then it's kind of a win-win, because at least one of them will advance and Colts have at least one playoff win (which was almost inconceivable coming into this year).
@AJ_ Yeah me too, I figure, Brady or Manning will completely tear apart our d, so might as well make it an interesting storyline for Indy fans.
@paulcareyjr I agree. Much more favorable matchup; their offense is the lowest in efficiency out of any of the other seeded AFC playoff teams. I certainly don't want to face either New England or Denver in that first game, and that's strictly because of the QBs in question. Baltimore, to me, is the best possibility for a win, even though it wouldn't be easy by any stretch.
Am I the only one thinking about what happens if the Pats win this weekend and we win out? Probably. I'm crazy.
@CrizzleColts been thinking about it quite a bit.
And then I remember how crappy the Colts were for 57 minutes yesterday. I think missing the playoffs is still more likely than winning the division.
(yes, I suck as a person)
@GregC @CrizzleColts You're probably right. It would have helped immensely if the Steelers and Bengals had lost yesterday as seemed likely at halftime of those games. Now it's still just 1 game and we still play Houston twice (though the more they win the more it looks like week 17 might have no value for them).
@Mattrellen @CrizzleColts You make some solid points. It's true that the Bengals and Steelers play each other but if they were to win their other games both teams could finish 10-6 or better, forcing the Colts to win 2 of their last 4, which is absolutely possible of course. Beat Tennessee at home next week and we should be in better than good position. Resting starters week 17 would be an interesting scenario.
@CrizzleColts The Steelers and Bengals still play against each other, and the Bengals also get the Ravens. The Texans could win their next 3, but all of those games are also potential losses, though they'd be unlikely to drop more than one.
Things may fall well from the other end too. Maybe the Colts will have nothing to play for in the last week and be able to rest starters, with the division out of reach and the Bengals and Steelers unable to catch up.
@CrizzleColts Thinking about? Probably not. Willing to voice in public? Yeah, maybe.
Excellent write up. I agree about the defense. Everyone seems to dismiss them, but they certainly held their own yesterday. Vaughn did a nice job on Johnson, at least as good as anyone could be expected to do against Johnson. If they add a OLB pressure specialist in the draft then we could have very good defense.
@hankster I agree on the OLB, but think they'll need to really fix their secondary before I'm ready to slap the 'very good' label on them. I am excited for the future, though, I like a lot of things I've seen from them this year, without the right personnel.
Well-written, as usual. To put something out there equally as provocative, how long have Colts fans defended their star, statistically-brilliant QB against the "count the rings" argument... only now to be able to point at the win column when presented with the "our QB is still better than yours" argument. Discuss.
@LovinBlue I've been holding off on responding to this because it's a very good, important point to discuss. I've gone through something similar in hockey: Sidney Crosby wouldn't put up the flashy stats of Alex Ovechkin (this has changed recently) but played hockey that was more conducive to winning. I wasn't blind to the obvious parallel, but Hockey and Football is apples to Apple Pie, so there's wiggle room.
What I would say in this situation is that we're making the same arguments now, that we made back then.
Back when Manning was here and the Colts were winning (or losing closely), we pointed to Mannings stats and the stats of the defense, running game, and offensive line. We said that Manning was doing his best and that at some point his teammates had to do their part, as well.
And here's where I say: it's the same argument now.
Luck has good advanced stats: he's going deep a lot, he's making the right reads, and he's playing in a very advanced, very-little-room-for-error offense. We talk about Luck having to overcome one of the worst Ds in the league, we talk about the horribleness of the offensive line, and we talk about the inconsistent play from the WR/TE/RBs.
Luck and Manning are the same person. I know that Nate is a more popular, well-read blogger, but we were both making the same point last year: Manning was worth 10+ wins because stats, conventional and otherwise, couldn't account for how good he is. It's going to be the same story with Luck. We're only scratching the surface of Luck, as - as others have mentioned - he's not even into the no-huddle offense.
I also want to talk about RGIII for a second: He has very impressive moments, and the way Shannahan handled him is very smart. But the Redskins *are* running a college offense, and if the Redskins don't start transitioning to something a bit more NFL in nature, the NFL defenses WILL adjust to it and will start giving RGIII fits.
Beyond that, objectively you can easily say the Redskins were a better team than the Colts last year, but I think it's even more pronounced than people realize: they had a very good defense and very good OL, but were held back by poor QB play. RGIII should have been able to plug-in-play into that team and help them compete in the NFC East. I think Luck would have them in contention, honestly. I understand that the Redskins have had injuries, but, i mean... nothing compared to what the Colts roster has gone through.
As far as confirmation bias... I'm sure I have some, but I believe anyone who has talked to me in comments, on twitter, or on our shows would say that I'm very realistic when it comes to Andrew Luck. I'm not a very rah-rah-rah kind of guy. He's very good. He will be at LEAST top-5 QB in the NFL if he stays healthy and the Colts give him a competent OL.
Perhaps I don't see it as clearly since, I am a very recent follower of the Colts (mostly attracted by this year's Luck fairy tale). Regardless of my newness to the Colt I've been watching football for a long time and I see Luck as just as similar to Elway as Peyton. That might be the result of the vertical offense BA as implemented or the sub-par OL which has forced Luck to put on his scrambling shoes, but to me that scrambling gun-slinging comeback was vintage Elway.
Perhaps as Luck takes over more of the offense and is able to more effectively dictate play like Manning I will see more similarities.
Whoever he resembles Luck is awesome and will hopefully only get better as he learns and Colts build around him.
@hankster @LovinBlue Well, Manning is the best ever in my opinion, so from that point, no, Luck is probably not the "second coming". But from the standpoint of being able to make the players around him better and overcome iffy performances from his teammates? Yea, he's well on his way to getting there.
@hankster @GregC @LovinBlue As Arians has pointed out a few times, Luck is also pretty similar to Roethlisberger. Sort of an athletic, play-extending deep passer who never gives up. I'm just hoping he gets some better protection and doesn't end up injured as much as Big Ben.
@GregC @LovinBlue I do not think Luck is remotely a "just wins" quarterback because I do not think such a thing exists. The key is getting enough context (and I believe stats are some of the context) to see the full story of what a player is doing. Let me bring in just a few "stats" that should help us to quantify how much of an impact a QB is having on a team:
1. Salary/Salary Cap. Manning is making 18 million in Denver this year. The team is paying out 115 million in salary. That places Manning as making 15% of the salary for that team. Luck's number is down considerably (5.6%), but only because of the new rookie wage scale. How much of a teams money is taken up at each position should tell you where a team expect to perform highly. The other part of this coin is that of active salary number. The Redskins have a lot of dead cap like the Colts, but not quite as bad (about 3 million more room from what I have seen). However, most teams are spending somewhere between 20-30 million more this year than Indy. This would tell us that the team does not have a full NFL team funded to compete. We must look at the fact that they have done so despite lack of depth or money invested as a testament to somebody (coaching or player).
2. Playcalling. Playcalling is a statistic. It is one that is not very well defined or watched, but right now we know that the Colts team is leaning on the arm of Luck to compete. It is calling down field throws early and often and only uses the run game because even Arians isn't yet gutsy enough to go 100% pass. RGIII is playing on a team that relies on a running game. Morris and Griffen very well, creating less pressure and expectation of passes for opposing defenses. This changes how defenses play, and how traditional stats will then see your success.
I will say, however, that at this point, we do some some disturbing trends in the statistics of Andrew Luck. Luck has not shown an ability, yet, to play safe football (much like a young Manning). His interception totals are too high. I blame Arians for encouraging a gunslinger mentality in his young QB.
All that to say, stats matter, but we have to look at all of them.
@mattshedd I agree with a lot of what you wrote. The only thing I'd even take slight issue with is the fact that I believe that Luck is fine with the ball, but the coaching staff isn't always putting him in the best position to succeed.
@LovinBlue I find this fascinating. For years, Colts fans pointed to stats to defend why Manning was better than the (at that time) statistically inferior, but more successful in terms of wins, Tom Brady. Now, the tables have turned. It is interesting that statiscally, both RGIII and Russell Wilson have been 'better' this season, but I'm in the camp that thinks Luck is the best player.
I have two counters. First is that Luck is a rookie. I will find the pumping up of Luck with these 'eye test' defenses much more grating in Year 5. I think most of us believe that as the team grows, Luck statistically will approach what we all think he will be.
The second is that we aren't using a purely qualitative argument. The statistics that we can point to are more intangible, but meaningful, like the fact that Luck throws further downfield than any other QB, deflating his stats. The fact that Luck is inheriting a 2-14 team (while Wilson inherited a 7-9 team, RGIII a 5-11 team). Luck' advanced stats show him as a better player than his conventional stats (of course, both RGIII and WIlson now have higher DVOA's, which is my advanced stat of choice).
I do find it interesting that even Nate, who for years defended Manning using purely statistical arguments, wrote a column extolling Luck's brilliance yesterday without mentioning one single statistic. Is it that we all look for confirmation bias? I don't know, but I do see some similarities between what we all are saying now and what Pats fans said years and years ago.
@dmstorm22 @LovinBlue Confirmation bias no doubt plays a role. No way around it. That being said, we also watch every play of Luck's, whereas, at least speaking for myself, we only see the other guys on a stat sheet or a highlight reel. I openly admit I don't have the time nor the inclination to watch every play of every NFL game, so my knowledge of what Luck does week to week is going to be heavily biased.
I believe, as objectively as I can, that Luck is the best rookie QB, but there's nothing definitive to make that claim.
@LovinBlue I think pretty soon we're going to have the statistically brilliant QB, the wins column AND the Rings to point to. At which point I'll commit football suicide so I can die happy.
@LovinBlue Well they still have a lot of advanced QB metrics too. QBR favors him quite heavily. He's also among the leaders in 3rd down conversions and 2-minute offense. Basically he's a rookie version of Manning's 2010 season with a worse roster.