Though held to 13 points on offense (second lowest of the season), the Colts did just enough to get the win to move to 7-4. Andrew Luck had an average game, but did enough damage on third down with Reggie Wayne and a touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton, who also had a 75-yard punt return touchdown.
Early pressure from primarily a four-man rush saw Luck get off to a very slow start, but as the protection improved, he started finding receivers and was able to take a lead that the defense would not surrender this week.
Luck was 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) at converting third down, which did not include the spike before halftime. That spike is worthy of discussion by itself as it was executed with just a second left before time expired. It saved the Colts three points.
The game would also come down to a third-down play, but here we like to look at every drop back Luck takes. He has now crossed the 500 mark – 516 to be exact – this season, but the true number is 501 when excluding five spikes and 10 kneel downs.
Drive No. 1
Drive Stats: 14:55 left (1st quarter), tied 0-0. 6 plays, 14 yards (punt).
Things did not start well with Winston Justice flagged for being downfield before the pass. Luck went to play action and threw to Reggie Wayne behind the line, and he made a nice spin to gain four yards on the play. Dwayne Allen was wide open for a medium gain, but Luck was under pressure as he threw and missed the pass. With great protection on 3rd and 11, Luck converted to an open T.Y. Hilton for 18 yards.
But after a false start by Vick Ballard and a bad decision to run (and lose a yard) on 2nd and 12, Luck could not continue the drive after surprising Allen with a short pass on 3rd and 13. The Colts punted.
Drive No. 2
Drive Stats: 4:23 left, leading 7-3. 9 plays, 30 yards (punt)
After a long wait due to Hilton’s punt return touchdown and Buffalo’s field goal drive, the Colts finally had the ball back on offense. Luck threw the first screen of the day to Wayne for seven yards. Luck overthrew Avery on a deep pass, then had another screen attempt batted down at the line by Mario Williams, who would then finish the drive with a sack on 3rd and 10 after the pocket collapsed on Luck.
Drive No. 3
Drive Stats: 13:22 left (2nd quarter), leading 7-3. 2 plays, 0 yards (Andrew Luck interception returned -1 yards to BUF 46).
Off play action, Luck scrambled to his right under pressure and threw a perfect pass to Wayne, but he failed to hang on, and Stephon Gilmore was credited with a pass defensed. Wayne needs to make that catch. It would have gained nearly 20 yards.
It especially hurt when on the next play, Luck may have misread Wayne’s route and threw wide of him, hitting one of Wayne’s hands, which tipped the ball into the air for the interception by Buffalo.
Drive No. 4
Drive Stats: 10:11 left, leading 7-3. 12 plays, 82 yards (Adam Vinatieri 25-yard field goal).
Avery picked up four yards on a bubble screen. On 3rd and 3, Luck stepped up and scrambled for eight yards to convert. Off play action, he checked down to Donald Brown, who made some nice moves to turn it into a 23-yard gain on what was Brown’s second best catch of the season.
Luck followed that play up with another good gain of 24 yards to Allen after he made a nice move on Jairus Byrd to get open. Three plays later Luck converted a 3rd and 11 with a 14-yard run after escaping again. He also got out of bounds to avoid any hit.
After two runs by Brown, it was 3rd and 3 at the BUF 7. The Colts went empty again, and Luck moved a bit to his left before throwing a low pass to Ballard, who could not hang on in front of the end zone. The Colts had to settle for the short field goal after a promising 82-yard drive.
Drive No. 5
Drive Stats: 2:12 left, leading 10-6. 8 plays, 39 yards (punt)..
Buried at their own 8 with 2:00 left, the Colts went to a shovel pass for the first time this year, completing to Allen for barely two yards. But on 3rd and 8, Luck completed the first of three straight passes gaining over 10 yards. Perfect protection was the key, as the Colts had a 1st and 10 at their own 47.
At this point, Buffalo changed things up and only sent three rushers after faking their normal four. It did cause Luck to hurry a throw into the dirt for Wayne, then he went deep into double coverage, overthrowing Avery. On 3rd and 10, Luck’s pass was just off to Avery near the sideline and the Colts had to punt.
Drive No. 6
Drive Stats: 0:32 left, leading 10-6. 5 plays, 50 yards (Adam Vinatieri 19-yard field goal).
Down to 0:32 at the IND 49, Luck’s pass to Wayne drew 23 yards of pass interference after he was grabbed just enough on the play. The next throw was right over the defender, and Wayne was able to run towards the end zone in an attempt to score. He was stopped at the BUF 3 after gaining 25 yards on the play. The Colts used their final timeout with 0:16 left.
Right here I would go with the QB draw. Luck has done it well before, and you still have enough time (as we would learn) to get up and spike the ball if he is stopped short.
The Colts did go empty, but Luck threw to Allen, who had tight coverage on him and the ball deflected away incomplete. Now with 0:12 left, Luck dangerously threw the slant to Wayne for two yards, and he was unable to score. Not looking like they could get it off, the Colts did a mad dash to the line and Luck did execute the miraculous spike with 0:01 left.
That saved three points as Adam Vinatieri was able to kick the field goal for a 13-6 lead at halftime.
Drive No. 7
Drive Stats: 12:06 left (3rd quarter), leading 13-6. 15 plays, 87 yards (8-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton)
The offense was still “feeling it” to start the second half. Avery was feeling something after a low pass hit him “down there” and you can hear an audible discomfort. The pass went through his arms as he misjudged the ball, which should have been caught.
Luck converted 3rd and 6 with a crossing pattern to Wayne for 15 yards. LaVon Brazill and Avery then made catches over the middle for a first down. Two plays later Luck was under heavy pressure and threw the ball to Wayne, nearly resulting in an interception.
Marcell Dareus came in for the big sack after destroying Samson Satele, setting up 3rd and 17. Luck was under pressure again, but stepped up while contacted and made the perfect throw to a completely wide open Wayne, who even bobbled it before making the catch. The play gained 25 yards.
After Wayne could only get a hand on a fade, Ballard lost a yard on the ground, setting up 3rd and 8. Luck had the timing pass delivered well to Hilton in the back of the end zone for the touchdown to cap a 15-play drive. Colts led 20-6.
Drive No. 8
Drive Stats: 3:17 left, leading 20-6.. 3 plays, 5 yards (three-and-out punt).
However, we have seen this one before. Up two touchdowns, the Colts went conservative, running twice before Luck was sacked by Williams as he attempted to scramble. It was a quick three and out.
Drive No. 9
Drive Stats: 11:23 left (4th quarter), leading 20-13. 3 plays, 3 yards (three-and-out punt).
To Bruce Arians’ credit, he did put the ball in Luck’s hands all three times on this drive, which came after Buffalo scored a touchdown to draw closer.
On first down, Luck scrambled from pressure to barely get a yard and avoid another sack. He had time to hit Hilton for a 7-yard gain. On a big 3rd and 2, the Colts used play action, but no one even blocked Williams, who came in easily for his third sack of the game.
Drive No. 10
Drive Stats: 3:22 left, leading 20-13. 6 plays, 34 yards (end of game).
Fortunately the defense held, even if Tom Zbikowski tried to give it away with a fumbled interception. Now the Colts had 3:22 left to end the game on their terms in the four-minute offense.
Luck came out throwing on play action, but Wayne could not hold onto the short pass. That stops the clock. Brown had a critical 11-yard run for a first down. On 2nd and 9, the Colts again went to the air, and Wayne navigated past the official to make another easy catch for 14 yards.
Let me remind you that in the 2011 season, teams in this four-minute offense situation threw the ball just five times on first down (they ran it 95.7 percent of the time). They only threw it on second down 87.4 percent of the time.
The Colts were not screwing around this time, though they would run it to set up a 3rd and 10 with 1:48 and Buffalo out of timeouts. This is the game. Who else would Luck throw to but Wayne? It was incomplete, but that’s because Wayne was grabbed, drawing the game-clinching pass interference penalty for eight yards.
Luck then took three knees to make it official.
Andrew Luck finished 20 of 37 for 240 yards, TD, INT, and a 71.9 passer rating. He was sacked four times, and excluding kneel downs, had three scrambles for 23 yards.
Luck’s 17 incompletions: four drops (one defensed), four thrown wide (one interception on deflection), three overthrows, two passes defensed, one that hit Reggie Wayne in one hand and ended up incomplete (lost it going out of bounds), one battled at the line, one underthrown and one spike.
Four of Luck’s first 13 passes were wide of the mark.
Note: there were three screen passes this week. Too lazy to fix, capture and upload again.
The chess match was interesting this week. Dave Wannstedt played the most vanilla front anyone has played all season against the Colts. They are paying big bucks to their defensive line, so I suppose they are expected to come through for them.
But the Bills sent more than four pass rushers on just three of Luck’s 43 drop backs (7.0 percent). That is by far the lowest of the season against the Colts.
Yet, the pressure was still getting there fairly well (37.2 percent – 2nd highest of season), and Luck struggled under it this week as you can see.
Buffalo got pressure on nine of Luck’s first 17 drop backs, so it is not a surprise why the Colts struggled early on offense. Then they had a stretch on drives 5-7 where Luck was pressured just once on 16 drop backs. Go figure the Colts put 10 points on the board during that time.
Finally, Luck was pressured on six of his last 11 drop backs when the Colts went into a shell a tad bit. My copy of the game had technical issues so I was not able to get the STR times done this week.
Even though Buffalo was rarely ever rushing, the Colts used a season-high 30.0 percent of the empty backfield this week, and once had Luck in shotgun on 12 consecutive drop backs.
With seven in coverage most of the time, the Colts stayed away from screen passes, calling just three for gains of seven and four yards, and the one that was knocked down.
The play action was not a factor this week, and Luck was even sacked twice while using it thanks to poor protection.
It was really one of the offense’s weakest performances of the season, but they did just enough to get the win. It was good to see them close it out on their end.
One more bright spot was the receivers had a season-high 44.2 YAC%. It was led by Wayne’s 55 YAC, which is the most he’s had all season (40 in Chicago was his previous high).
Wayne was really the story of the game for the offense. He caught 8-of-14 targets for 102 yards, plus drew two critical pass interference penalties for 31 more yards. Though he had a few balls he should have caught and did tip one that became the pick, it was a great game.
It was also the worst any defense has done against Wayne, as he was wide open on several occasions, hence the better YAC this week. We are used to seeing Wayne hit as soon as he catches the ball. Now when Buffalo is dropping seven into coverage so much, how does he get so open?
That is why “Fire Wanny!” is as popular as ever.
Next game: Going to Detroit could be a high-scoring game. The defense for the Colts has not played well on the road, and Calvin Johnson is likely to have a huge game. Luck will need to pick up the pace to match Stafford, and it would be nice to see a turnover-free performance, all while lighting up the scoreboard as the Colts look to go to 8-4.
A win would set another NFL record for Luck, as he would have the most rookie wins for a No. 1 overall QB. It would also move the Colts one step closer to the postseason.
Can you believe it yet?