Indianapolis Colts: Lost and Found Keys in Colts' Win over the Chiefs
Andrew Luck tied an NFL record—an all-time record, not a rookie record—with his seventh game-winning drive of the season. While this record says a great deal about Luck’s future in the league, a stat like that also screams, “How long can it last?”
Winning ugly is necessary once in awhile; all of the great teams do it. Undefeated teams in particular can point to some obnoxious wins they were lucky to escape with. Making a habit out of it, however, is a recipe for disaster.
I have to admit that my five keys to the Colts’ success over the Kansas City Chiefs were rather clichéd, the kinds of things that any successful team should do. Successful teams make deep playoff runs; lucky teams get bounced in the first round.
Jump out Early
The Colts have come from behind so often this season that first-quarter scores are of little consequence. First-quarter scores do matter to the Chiefs, who are now 1-12 in games they trailed at the end of the first quarter.
The Colts did not generate much offense in the opening period, but they got a big play from Darius Butler, who returned a Brady Quinn interception for the game’s first points. At the end of the first quarter, the Colts led 7-3 despite not having a single first down on offense.
The interception return for a touchdown did not deter the Chiefs, and they would soon kidnap Uncle Mo from the Colts.
Perhaps I was a bit shortsighted in suggesting that the Colts control the tempo of the game with a traditional ground-pounding attack. The Colts like to run the kind of up-tempo, no-huddle offense that deters defensive substitutions, wears out the defensive players on the field and keeps the opposing coaches and signal-calling captains on their heels. When working properly, this type of game tempo can be highly successful.
This game provided an interesting contrast between the up-tempo and slow-tempo styles. The Chiefs controlled the tempo with their highly effective ground game and made it appear, at times, that the Colts offense might never get back on the field.
The Chiefs clearly controlled the tempo for most of the game, but what little offensive success the Colts had came when their high-tempo offense was able to do its thing.
Stuff the Run
The Kansas City Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to lose a game after rushing for more than 350 yards—352 yards on 44 carries. Jamaal Charles had an 86-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half.
At that point, Uncle Mo was basking on the Chiefs sideline, and the Chiefs continued to pound the Colts defense for 152 more rushing yards after that. The Chiefs' rushing attack pulled their fans back into the game, and, at the start of the fourth quarter, looked like it was about to leave the Colts defense for dead.
Match Emotional Intensity
The Colts seemed ready to play. Who wouldn't be with a playoff spot on the line? The team was also buoyed by the announced return of head coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano did not coach this game, but the players remarked on the spark his presence gave the team heading into such a meaningful game.
The Chiefs played with the same heart they demonstrated after Week 11’s tragedy. They could not, however, overcome the mistakes that plagued them all season.
The Chiefs stole my keys to the game, and they are probably living in my house with those keys. Nevertheless, these keys are important because they are the means by which successful teams control and win ball games.
Maybe the Colts need a different set of keys, but it is hard to imagine them going deep into the playoffs if they let their opponent run over them and Mr. Luck is watching the game from the seat of his pants.
How did the Colts win this game?
The Colts did what they have done all season long: capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes and pull out a win in the final quarter of the game.
Coming into this game the Colts led the league in “penalties against” but ranked 30th in turnover margin (-17). In this game the Colts claimed both statistical advantages and, as the breaks have all season, they came at opportune times.
- Butler’s interception return for a touchdown came after a false start penalty pushed the Chiefs back to 3rd-and-11. Any time you can make Brady Quinn throw the football good things can happen. [Colts +7]
- A 57-yard pass play to Jon Baldwin put the Chiefs on the Colts’ 23. On the next play Jamaal Charles ran for 16 yards to the Colts’ seven-yard line, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty. The Chiefs wound up settling for a field goal. [Chiefs -4]
- On the Colts' second drive, Vick Ballard fumbled at the Colts’ 39, but it was recovered by an alert Coby Fleener. [Chiefs -3]
- Following an 11-play, five-minute, 52-yard drive, the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop missed a 43-yard field goal. [Chiefs -3]
- On the Chiefs’ next possession Charles fumbled the ball on the Colts’ 16-yard line. The Colts had already benefited on the drive from two Chiefs’ penalties for 15 yards. [Chiefs -7]
- In the second half, the first Chiefs’ drive following Charles’ touchdown romp through the Colts’ secondary ended when cornerback Vontae Davis intercepted Quinn in the Colts’ end zone. [Chiefs -7]
- The Chiefs bullied the Colts’ defense again during their first drive of the fourth quarter. Facing 3rd-and-1 at their own 27, the Colts somehow managed to stop the Chiefs’ juggernaut, Peyton Hillis. Hillis was over 100 yards rushing at that point and Charles was over 200. So, whose number did the Chiefs’ coaches call on 4th-and-1? Brady Quinn's. The Colts took over on downs, a disgusted looking Uncle Mo moved his chair to the Colts’ bench and the Colts started their game-winning march down the field. [Chiefs -10]
Assuming the Chiefs could punch the ball in once they entered the red zone (and the Colts’ defense demonstrated zero evidence to the contrary) and could have mustered a field goal from their other forays into field goal range (had the Chiefs recovered), these Chiefs’ blunders accounted for a 27-point swing in favor of the Colts.
A team’s “points off turnovers” are often reported as a key game stat. The Colts need a stat for “bonehead-point differential.”
Good Luck in the 4th Quarter
- You have a quarterback who thrives under pressure and motivates the men around him to rise to a higher level.
- Your team was behind in all seven of those games.
Tying an all-time NFL record for most fourth-quarter game-winning touchdown drives in a season points to two facts:
Prior to the Colts’ game-winning drive, Andrew Luck was 11-for-27 and 154 yards. He missed his first pass of the drive, his 10th incompletion in a row.
None of it fazed Luck. He completed his next five passes, Ballard rushed four times for 18 yards and the Colts finished off the 13-play, 73-yard touchdown drive with a seven-yard pass to Reggie Wayne.
The bottom line is that the Colts were Lucky, again. Their opponents made too many mistakes and the Colts managed to take advantage of them.
This is not a recipe for success in the playoffs. Is it?