In the first half, the Colts secondary couldn't stop Andre Johnson, allowing him to catch 7 passes for 190 yards and 3 scores.
In the second half, they held Johnson to just 39 yards on 2 catches.
In the first half, Pep Hamilton seemed determined to impose his will on the Texans, running out the vaunted 1-WR formation multiple times.
In the second half, Hamilton would call one running play before the final clock-killing drive.
In the first half, the officials missed a "hitting a defenseless receiver" penalty that would have put the Colts inside the 15-yard line on their first drive, they missed a roughing the punter call that would have given them a fresh set of downs, and we're not exactly sure what they were doing on the LaVon Brazill forced fumble overturn.
In the second half, they realized millions of people were watching.
In the first half, Griff Whalen had 3 or 4... dozen... drops.
In the second half, he caught a 17-yard pass that converted a huge 3rd-down on the game-winning-drive in the 4th quarter.
In the first half, the Colts offensive line surrendered 3 sacks and countless pressures.
In the second half, they turned it around, yielding only one sack and providing Luck with enough time to find TY Hilton down field.
In the first half, Luck was 3 of 12 for 56 yards.
In the second half, he was 15 of 28 for 215 and 3 TDs.
Just when you're ready to count them out, the Colts perform their best.
But this isn't a happy tale. While Sunday's thrilling 27-24 victory was a good win - a gutsy performance on national TV against a divisional rival, whose season you just effectively ended - we need to do what we've talked about in this column countless times before: judge the process, not the results. I full believe that the Indianapolis Colts are a better team than the Houston Texans. For the majority of Sunday's game, they didn't play like it.
If this were just a one-time thing, I could ignore it - coming off the bye week, maybe there was some rust. The Texans were a desperate team, maybe their compete level was just higher - but this isn't a one-time thing. The Colts have struggled with focus and discipline for long stretches in almost all of their games this year. While they've often countered those stretches with periods of brilliance - on both sides of the ball - which has provided them with just enough points and just enough stops to win, these Colts aren't last year's feel-good story. These Colts are poised to win their division. They are poised to fight for a first-round bye. These Colts aren't happy to be here, they are here to stay.
And that's why last night's game was so frustrating. Contenders don't come out and play down to their competition. They don't have to rely on emotions and the "underdog status" to get up for a game. They certainly don't waste a chance to step on the neck of the reigning division champions. In fact, they relish the chance to put them away. They know they are the better team and they come out and play like it.
What's worse is that the Colts seemed unprepared for staples of the Texans offense. The bootleg, the cut-back running scheme, and the play-action pass were foreign concepts to the Colts defense in the first half. These have been the cornerstone of Gary Kubiak's offense since he became the Texans' HC in 2006. And coming out of the bye week, with two weeks to prepare? It's totally inexcusable.
The games are only going to get harder. The stakes are only going to get higher. The Colts shouldn't be content with shocking people with the speed of their rebuild. Their goals should be higher, better, more meaningful. After beating the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, they would be selling themselves short if they didn't.
But they did get the win. They did some great things in the 2nd half. And when they finally stopped worrying about imposing their will and start focusing on protecting their quarterback, the game went as it should. He's the real deal. With or without Reggie Wayne, he's good enough to score points on any defense, given time. Was he part of the problem in the 1st half? Certainly. But he'll also be the biggest part of the solution. Oh, and throw the ball to TY... early, and often, please, Pep.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention the worst part of Sunday night's game: the collapse and subsequent hospitalization of Texans' HC Gary Kubiak. I never wish injuries on opponents and I certainly don't wish illness on their coaches. Get well, coach.
I'll be on hiatus for the next month or so. I won't be writing or available on twitter. Thanks for all of your kind words (AND the not-so-kind words). I truly enjoy our weekly (and sometimes daily) interactions, and look forward to moaning with all of you again. Wow, that sounded really bad. That fits in with the rest of my writing, so we'll leave it. Take care, guys (and gals).
"These Colts aren't happy to be here, they are here to stay."
I have to wonder if this actually is part of the problem; if the roster is still dependent on young/inexperienced guys at enough key spots that they occasionally are just happy to be there (San Diego game)? Or overwhelmed by the circumstances (Denver game)? Or just not veteran enough to know how to handle a bye week yet (Houston game)?
Despite some great veteran leaders, maybe these Colts are just still a little too green to perform like we've come to expect, from the glory years of the Old Regime.
Boy, that Houston D line is a meatgrinder. Those were the worst mismatches on the field. Whatever problems the Texans have this season, it is not their defense. I hoped with Cushing out the Colts would have a little more room to run the ball...
Hurry back, Greg!
I don't think the first half of Sunday's game was respectable at all, but I'm not ready to thrown anyone under the bus for it. A few points:
1) Didn't the Manning Colts have the same problem of playing down to their opponents?
2) Which team in the NFL this year is beating the teams they "should beat" consistently?
3) We had the bootleg covered every single time. Keenum simply avoided the pressure and made plays.
4) Maybe the Texans aren't that bad - they did lose to KC by only 1 point...(Weak argument, I know, but still).
Other than that, I must say last night is why I love being a Colts fan. Game ain't over 'till the fat lady sings.
Mainly just commenting so I can follow what others are saying, too. But for those critical of Richardson and calling for Brown to start: did you notice Brown running out of the Power Run set on first and goal, and banging into a wall where a running lane ostensibly should have been?
Richardson may not be playing up to his potential, but he's not the problem.
Also: I'm starting to think that Pagano is as bad of a head coach as Nate Dunleavy believes Richardson to be bad as a running back - and I'll continue to think it as long as I see the team open up games seemingly unprepared, and as long as he continues to insist of the asinine Power Run set that handcuffs the offense.
Man, I'll really miss your Hitchhiker's Guide and Monday Moaner.
I hope your absence is not being dictated by something really serious.
@RobertItoh Rohan and I will be doing a podcast to both review and preview, combining the two shows, basically. ITWB will continue as well.
@chip_bennett Starting to wonder myself about this. Are we ill-prepared to start games, or do we make awesome adjustments at halftime? (I guess both are possible, but it begs the question, why don't we prep better if we can turn on a dime at halftime?) And if we are ill-prepared, why the hell? Frustrating. Need to be more consistent (i.e. consistent SECOND-HALF-wise, not first halves) come the post-season.
The coaches and Grigson aren't idiots, but somehow they are failing to see that the vast majority of our success comes fro the pass-heavy hurry-up game and not the power run game. Mystifying really.
If we were fans of the Jets or some perennial 7-9 team (like the Colts were in the mid-90s), we'd be happy with the win. But the last 14 years have raised our standards, expectations, IQs, etc. There's more to winning than just having a better score. Sigh.
Greg, I hope all is well, see you in a month.
He's a heck of a motivator, but the preparation and in game decisions are just weird and hard headed.
@Payton As much as I'll miss Greg's take on each game, I'm pretty sure they could run a headline and the comments block and the rest of us could take it from there.
@Kyle Rodriguez Whew -- glad to hear it! Not sure how I'd go a whole month of the season without it.
@Bobman1 @chip_bennett All I can think is that the coaches see the same facts and stats that we do, but can't integrate them into their view of how things work. When smart people miss the bleeding obvious, usually it's because some preexisting bias is in the way.
The part I still don't understand is why Pagano's so big on run defense, when he was a secondary coach before becoming a DC. Shouldn't he have a better understanding of the relative values of run and pass defense in stopping an offense than a bunch of blog commenters (who live in their moms' basements)?
@MarcusDugan I think he's ok. The defense is far better than any of us expected and some of the credit must go to Pagano.
Now the Colt's just need him to figure out that throwing the ball all over the place and running out of passing formations works when Luck is not your QB. Remember He's used to the AFC North, which hasn't exactly been a mecca for QB play. There is hope. Ron Riveria finally realized that Newton is good and going for it on 4th and short is a good idea.
P.s. I'll miss your columns Greg, have a good trip or whatever you're doing.