The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Seattle Seahawks 34-28 in one of the most entertaining games of this young NFL season. The game was wild from the get-go, as the Colts fell behind 12-0 after a Pat McAfee punt was blocked and knocked out of the end zone for a safety.
But the Colts roared back on a 73-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton and followed it up with a blocked field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown by Delano Howell. It was back and forth from there, but the Colts leave with the victory over the previously unbeaten Seahawks.
With the win, the Colts move to 4-1 on the season and prove that they are one of the AFC's premier teams. Outside of Denver, nobody in the AFC has a clear-cut advantage over Indianapolis, not even New England, who lost to Cincinnati earlier in the day.
What else can we take from the Colts' victory? Turns out there was plenty to like in Indianapolis.
It's hard to put into words what Andrew Luck did on Sunday.
Luck was 16-of-29 for 229 yards and two touchdowns (a passer rating of 104.0), but even that impressive stat line doesn't quite express how phenomenal he was.
The second-year quarterback made "wow play" after "wow play," escaping the pocket and making accurate throws on the run. Luck's touchdown throw to T.Y. Hilton in the third quarter was especially gorgeous, as was his scramble and throw to Reggie Wayne for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Luck got battered in the pocket once again today but stood up to the pressure and handled it well. His evisceration of the Seattle defense led to 27 offensive points, only the second time in the last two years that Seattle has allowed 27-plus offensive points.
Trent Richardson didn't impress in his first two weeks with the Colts.
Through a large part of this game, he didn't against the Seahawks either.
But he had three crucial runs in the second half: a 16-yarder and two 10-yarders. The 16-yard run didn't include any missed tackles, but he hit the hole decisively and was able to get a big gain. The other two runs were impressive though, as Richardson bounced off tacklers and was able to get a big gain.
The second of the two was the most crucial, as the Colts faced a 3rd-and-5 from Seattle's 45 with 4:30 left in the game and the Colts up by three points. Richardson fought through at least two tackles and gained about eight yards after contact, which allowed the Colts to eat another 2:30 off the clock before hitting a field goal to increase the lead to six.
Richardson still hasn't done nearly enough to justify the trade for Indianapolis, but plays like that will go a long way toward swaying the Colts fanbase.
The box score says it all in this one: five catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Hilton has been held without a touchdown so far this season, and his deep targets haven't connected, but he and Luck had everything going in this one.
The highlights were the touchdowns, an amazing 73-yard bomb and a precise 29-yard strike. But Hilton was critical on a few other plays as well.
All three of Hilton's remaining catches went for 10-plus yards and a first down, including two third-down conversions of at least eight yards. He also drew two long pass interference penalties that resulted in first downs.
He was a decoy at times in the first four weeks, but he was the main attraction against Seattle.
A large portion of the yards from Wilson came on scrambles, but the read-option killed the Colts as well.
The Colts were able to stop Wilson on a few scrambles late in the game but were defenseless throughout most of the game. The defensive line was much more undisciplined in this one, as were the outside linebackers.
In attempts to get up the field, the Colts allowed Seattle too many holes for draws and delays. They won't play another team with a quarterback like Wilson, but it's still the team's greatest weakness.
People mentioned Jerrell Freeman prior to this game as someone to watch, and he didn't disappoint.
Watch Colts LB Jerrell Freeman against Seattle's depleted O-line. Very underrated player who attacks multiple gaps.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) October 6, 2013
Freeman missed a few tackles in the running game that led to big gains by Marshawn Lynch but was extremely effective as a quarterback spy in the final quarter.
On the Seahawks' second-to-last drive, Freeman tackled Wilson two yards short of the first down, forcing a punt. Freeman was there on the final Seattle play as well, forcing a poor throw from Wilson that was intercepted by Darius Butler.
It's a wonder the Colts didn't use Freeman as a spy more often.
The Colts defense struggled early and often in this one, allowing 423 total yards and over six yards per play.
But when it counted most, the Colts came up big. They forced five field-goal attempts on the day, which was a key part of the Colts' win. The Colts had a much worse game in terms of field position than they've been used to for most of this season, and the defense still was able to force field goals rather than touchdowns.
The biggest reason for that: third-down performance. The Colts held Seattle to 2-for-12 on third downs and 1-for-3 on fourth down. Meanwhile, the Colts offense converted seven of their 12 third downs.
Chuck Pagano is still making a few odd game-day coaching decisions, like calling a timeout in the first half that nearly allowed the Seahawks to score before the end of the half. His decision to kick a field goal near the end of the fourth was questionable as well.
But Pagano's positives far outweighed the bad on Sunday. His aggressive attempts at two-point conversions were the correct calls, even if the play-calling was odd.
More importantly, Pagano kept the team focused and even-keel after the Colts fell to an early 12-0 deficit. It looked like the Colts were going to let the game get out of hand, but they came out and answered with a touchdown. In the third quarter, the Colts gave up two quick field goals but responded with two straight touchdown drives to take a lead.
How good of a coach Pagano actually is is still up in the air, but this goes down as a big positive for the second-year coach.
Just how good are the Colts?
We'll know with more certainty after the next three games (against San Diego, Denver and Houtson), but one thing is for sure: The Colts are a team to be reckoned with, both in the AFC and the league as a whole.
The Colts are now 4-1 and have beat two of the NFC's premier teams in the last three weeks. Indianapolis was supposed to be a wild-card team this season, but right now they are favorites in the AFC South. Houston is reeling at 2-2 (could fall to 2-3 with a difficult game against San Francisco Sunday night) and hasn't looked good. Indianapolis, on the other hand, has looked like a Super Bowl contender over the last three weeks.
Outside of the juggernaut that resides in Denver, the Colts look like the AFC's next-best team as New England lost to an inconsistent Cincinnati team on Sunday.
The Colts have found their offensive rhythm, the defense is playing at a high level and the team has more confidence than anybody expected.