Photo Credits: (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Indianapolis Colts' Instagram Account)
Sometimes, ugly wins are a thing of beauty.
Today, the Colts were hoping to recover from last week’s blowout loss. “Favored” by one point at home, against the 1-5 Cleveland Browns, nothing was certain. Cleveland came into the game with the rookie leader in passing yards in Brandon Weeden, and a very good offensive line. They also brought a big, bruising, talented back in Trent Richardson, part of a trio of bad matchups for the Indy defense. This was a team primed to run over, through and cruise on past the injury-riddled Colts defense. A loss today at home could have dealt a brutal blow to this young team’s confidence. The Colts took the field feeling the weight of the pressure to win, pressure to prove they were, in fact, building the monster, that they were still a team holding great promise for the future. They needed to prove they could still win this season. (Some even argued that a loss could foretell the end to their streak of 83 consecutive regular season sellouts.)
As we know now, these young Indianapolis Colts delivered. They rose up when the pressure was the greatest. They got some great play from players who had previously struggled, most notably the run defense, offensive line/running backs, and, yes, Tom Zbikowski. In fact, these Colts turned this game upside-down as far as what many expected it to be. They ran the ball well, 37 times for 148 yards (4 ypc) and two Andrew Luck rushing touchdowns, limited Cleveland to 17 carries for 55 yards (3.2 ypc), and controlled the clock, dominating in time of possession. Did anyone expect this? Did anyone expect Cleveland to pass well, struggle to run, and struggle to stop the run? That is the role we thought the Colts would play. Cleveland was supposed to be able to run the ball at will against Indy’s depleted defensive front, but it was the Colts, punishing Cleveland’s defensive front, gaining 10 first downs and 2 scores on the ground. On a day when our expectations were turned upside, the Colts came through with just enough plays to come away victorious. Here is what I observed:
On the first drive of the game, Luck was on fire, hitting Reggie Wayne on a deep pass, throwing a nice short completion to Ballard that turned into a big gain, and finishing it off with his best Cam Newton impression on a brilliant touchdown run. I was happy to see the return of the short pass to the Colts offense. 7-0, Colts
On the ensuing drive, Richardson’s first 4 carries went for just 7 yards, but Weeden reminded us that he is the leader in pass yardage among rookie quarterbacks. After his impressive touchdown pass (and bobbled catch by Greg Little), Cleveland missed their extra point on a botched hold that nearly became a Charlie Brown moment. 7-6, Colts
The Colts answered back with 14-play 76-yard drive, again punctuated by a great rushing touchdown from Andrew Luck. This was a smart run by Luck. The defense took away both options on the right side of the field as he rolled that way. Luck recognized this, and turned on the jets for his second rushing touchdown. 14-6, Colts
The half ended on a Hail Mary pass from Weeden (batted down by Jerraud Powers) after a strange time out call from Arians with 1 second left on 4th and 4. 14-6, Colts.
The first half looked like we were in for something similar to a shootout with the Browns, with very little defense from either team. The Colts controlled the ball with 16:24 of possession in the first half, 197 total yards including 15 runs for 60 yards and Luck’s two touchdown runs, while holding Cleveland to 2.8 yards per carry. Luck and Weeden were both impressive, completing 10-18 and 13-19 passes respectively. Both teams converted 5-7 3rd downs, and until just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter, neither team had forced a punt. But when that first stop finally happened, it was the Colts defense that came through.
In the second half, Cleveland got the ball first and raced 80 yards downfield in just over 3 minutes, with Brandon Weeden throwing passes of 8, 14, 25, and 33 yards, the last of which was a TD to Josh Gordon. 14-13, Colts
The Colts answered back with a 17-play drive that only netted 61 yards. They had a beautiful 4th down conversion with Delone Carter getting the carry from the fullback position, but the momentum turned one play later when Andrew Luck was sacked for a 5-yard loss. Then came a penalty on right tackle Winston Justice. Indy had to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri. 17-13, Colts
After that, both teams traded punts for a while. The Colts defense began to look very good (or the Browns offense played very poorly), while Indy's offense struggled with three 3-and-outs in four drives.
With 4:08 remaining, Cleveland got the ball again. The Colts defense managed to stand strong one more time, forcing the Browns to punt after consecutive incompletions credited to Pat Angerer and Jerraud Powers, who had struggled for much of the game.
The Colts got the ball back with 1:54 remaining. The offense, which had struggled throughout the second half needed one more good drive to win the game. They responded with a clock-eater, handing off 5 straight times to Vick Ballard for 26 yards. Do not discount how important this drive was to this young team. When they needed it most, the Colts were able to impose their will on the opposing team with great blocking and powerful running from Ballard.
When Cleveland got the ball back, there was only one second left. Just enough time for one of those comical lateral plays that ended with Lefeged, tackling Josh Cribbs at the Cleveland 42. Game over. 17-13, Colts
Some quick grades:
Offense: B- They played great in the first half and did just enough to pull through in the end. Vick Ballard finished with 20 carries for 84 yards, very similar to Donald Brown's nice outing against Green Bay.
Defense: B+ They stopped the run and let Weeden try to beat them, which he nearly did, with 264 yards and no interceptions. The Colts defense continues to struggle to force any turnovers.
Special Teams: A Great punt and kick coverage. The only time the Browns could get a good return was when they held, and they were caught every time. At one crucial point in the second half, Pat McAfee boomed a 51-yard punt, and Levon Brazil came in and blasted Josh Cribbs for no gain on the return.
Overall, this was a great win. It was an ugly win, but I think this is the type of team that will relish an ugly win.
Last year, the Colts were so bad, that every game seemed to take on (at least for me) an eerie importance. First it was would the Colts even win a game, and then it became will we get the first pick and subsequently give up on Peyton.
Before last year, it seemed like Manning never took any game for granted and the Colts always seemed to get the other team's best effort as they geared up to try and stop #18.
Yesterday... just made me realize how lucky we Colts fans have been for the last 14 years. I mean when is the last game, besides maybe in Week 17, that the Colts played that in the big picture of the NFL season meant nothing.
I was happy the Cotls got a win. And perhaps the most optomistic amongst us, think the team can make a playoff run. (God bless you for feeling that way.) But mostly I was left thinking, "geez, this is what an NFl game looks like between two really bad teams."
@DougEngland This second half malaise that we've seen in every game except G.B is disturbing. Arians seems to flip his play chart upside down and go conservative. Props to the defense for shutting down the Browns running game but remember, we'd all be bitching and moaning if Josh Gordon doesn't drop that pass
@DougEngland Yeah, they forgot how to play football in the second half. I took out the part where I called the second half offenses a comedy of errors, but based on others' impressions of the game, it wasn't far off base. I expect Greg and Kyle will be breaking this game down and tearing it apart later today. They really looked inept in the second half. The good thing is the defense didn't let a crappy offense take control of the game. I was glad to see that. I just would've liked to see a sack, int, or some kind of big play out of them. I still couldn't help giving them a decent grade.
I think the most strking thing for me was that after years of seeming to get every opponent's best effort, the Browns didn't seem to emotionally show up. As much as I would like to give credit to the Colts, it really did seem that the Browns were just giving the "professional" effort, but with nothing extra.
Just am not used to seeing that from Colts opponents.
I was at the game, and I'll rewatch it later. I'm not complaining because a win is a win. But it seemed to me that we had very little pressure on Weeden. It worked, thanks to a dropped TD pass, but I thought we'd dial up a few blitzes.
@smonroe I think that play might've actually been a blitz. Powers was 1-on-1 with no safety help. They got a little pressure, great hit on the qb by Angerer. But there were no sacks. No turnovers (except that fumble at the end). They need to be better. There is stronger competition on the horizon. If that had been the patriots, we might be talking about a loss right now.
I'll download the game and see it, but I guess I should skip over the second half?
Did they play worse than against the Jets, or just "differently"...?
@Payton ha. Shoot out with the browns sounds silly doesn't it. These recaps are a bit rushed. In the first half, despite the Colts going for the ball control approach, there were no punts until there was just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter. So, a slow motion shoot out I guess. Only in the sense that if it stayed that way, it would've come down to who had the ball last. It did end up coming down to the last possession, but both offenses kind of died out in the second half.
@MarcusDugan You didn't thank me for watching the game and being the best Colts fan of all time, but I didn't notice anything else amiss.
@Payton It was nasty. The defense did alright, but I think the Browns offense was playing poorly. shootout and browns in the same sentence sounds just plain silly, though. I actually have only skimmed and spell checked the thing bc I needed to go spend some time with the kids. So if you see anything horribly wrong with it, let me know.
I was watching this via NFL '12 on my mobile device. Looks like nothing happened in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters? And we stayed with the ground game and didn't "go in for the kill" with the lead. Is that about right?
@buymymonkey That's about right. Couldn't move the ball. But the defense stepped in as made up for the offensive pukefest in the second half. Fortunately, when they really needed to, they ripped off 5 yards per carry to finish them off. Luck struggled in the second half. TY Hilton was brutal. But I'm staying with the positive for the recap. I'll let the guys with time to pore over the stats to pick it apart tomorrow. Thanks for reading.