Just like they have all season, the Indianapolis Colts followed up a poor loss with a rebound win over the Tennessee Titans. The win wasn't pretty, and the Colts had to comeback from a 14-point deficit, but does it come any other way for Indianapolis?
The Colts fell behind 14-0 before getting on the board on an Adam Vinatieri field goal. They would cut it down to 17-6 after the teams traded field goals before the half.
Something clicked at halftime, however, and the Colts offense came to life, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half as running back Donald Brown found a seam around the left end. After a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the Colts scored again, this time a phenomenal scramble by quarterback Andrew Luck from 11 yards out.
The momentum was all Indianapolis from there. The Colts went on to score another field goal in the third before a game-icing drive ended in another Brown touchdown run.
The Colts now leave Tennessee with a 30-27 win and a three-game lead in the division.
Indianapolis continues to show that as a young team with deficiencies, it'll have its down moments. But, with a quarterback like Luck and a few weapons with high upside, it'll have its highs as well.
Yes, that Donald Brown.
Much of the discussion this week was how the Colts needed to find some kind of balance for their offense to be effective. Well, they found that balance, as Brown and running back Trent Richardson combined to rush for 102 yards on 22 carries.
What was the difference in this one compared to other games over the last few weeks?
Donald Brown out-touched Trent Richardson 15 to 13 tonight. It's the first time that's happened this season.— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) November 15, 2013
The Colts realized that Brown was their best shot at success on the ground and rode him in the second half. He finished with 14 carries to Richardson's eight and averaged nearly three yards more per carry. The excuses for Richardson are being spouted less and less as Brown continues to have a strong season.
While the Colts offensive line isn't good, there are yards there to be had, especially when the Colts mix up the formations they run out of. Richardson simply isn't quick or decisive enough to get to the holes that are there. While he does break tackles, he isn't explosive after contact and generally doesn't earn more than a yard or two extra.
Brown is running as well as he ever has, both from a vision and elusiveness perspective.
While Richardson will continue to be a part of the Colts' game plan, it seems clear that even the Colts have realized that Brown is the best option. He should continue to get more touches as the year goes on.
The Titans roster is probably better than the Colts roster.
But the Colts have Andrew Luck, and Luck does things that most quarterbacks don't do.
Like this play, where he went to throw a screen but saw a defensive lineman about to jump in his way. So, he pump-faked and then took off running, eventually reaching the end zone on an 11-yard run.
Or one of his six other scrambles on the night, where he juked Tennessee safety Michael Griffin into a spinning frenzy. We haven't even gotten to his passing yet.
Facing an opponent with two very good cornerbacks on the outside, Luck feasted on the middle of the field and finished with 232 yards on 23-of-36 passing. He didn't throw a touchdown, but the Colts scored touchdowns on three of the four trips they made to the red zone.
With the win, the Colts are now 8-0 after a loss under Luck. He knows how to bounce back after a bad game.
The Colts needed wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to step it up with Reggie Wayne out. He hasn't, and the team knows it.
It's become more apparent as time has gone on, and now, the Colts are beginning to play others ahead of him. LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and even David Reed spent time on the field in place of Heyward-Bey against the Titans after he had just one catch for 10 yards in the first half and added to his drop total with another poor drop that led to a punt.
The Colts have stated that an ankle injury was the cause of Heyward-Bey's lack of playing time in the second half, via Kevin Bowen of Colts.com, but there has been writing on the wall for a few weeks now.
Heyward-Bey was on the field for just 60 percent of the offensive plays over the last two weeks and has performed horribly in those stints. This one didn't start out any better, and the Colts have to try other people.
For the last two weeks, outside linebacker Erik Walden has played well. It's not All-Pro worthy, or anything like that, but for a player who has been much maligned for his lack of pass rush (still not there) and poor decisions in run defense (much better lately), it's nice to see decent play.
Against the Titans, he was, once again, serviceable, with a few above-average plays thrown in for good measure. Walden finished with four tackles and a sack (for a second straight week) and had two tackles for a loss.
But, despite the strong play, Walden's most memorable moment in the game came when he head-butted Titans tight end Delanie Walker after pulling Walker's helmet off.
Walker was none too pleased, according to The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt:
What got him riled up? I was whupping his butt, that’s what happened, and the cat couldn’t take it when he was getting whupped. He got frustrated, and he should have been ejected for what he did. That’s bush league and that’s the type of stuff we don’t need in this league.
I whupped on him the whole game, and I’m going to whup on him again in two weeks. We are not cool. That type of stuff doesn’t belong in the NFL.
Walker has every reason to be upset, as Walden's actions were not only reckless and stupid but potentially dangerous. The consequences from the league will certainly include a fine but possibly even a suspension as well.
Second-year tight end Coby Fleener has quietly put together a pretty solid season. He's improved in his consistency and has been making tough catches in traffic all season—something we didn't see from him during his rookie year. While he's usually only good for two to five catches a game, Fleener has made an impact in the receiving game, even if his blocking is still subpar.
On Thursday, Fleener put it all together for the entire nation to see what he can be.
He was a possession receiver, filling Wayne's role as he caught catch after catch over the middle with a defender draped over his back.
He made big plays happen, turning on speed that we've rarely seen to outrun defenders down the left sideline on the way to a 39-yard gain.
Most importantly, he was dependable, catching eight of 10 targets for 107 yards. The Colts desperately need somebody to fill that dependable role for Luck, someone he can trust on those routes over the middle. Against the Titans, Fleener played the Reggie Wayne role perfectly.
For the second time in three weeks, Robert Mathis was held without a sack. Not only was Mathis unable to bring down the quarterback, he rarely even got near him. Titans tackle Michael Roos did a great job on Mathis, who has had a few games like this throughout the season.
Mathis has had three games where he's failed to get to the quarterback, and all three have come on the road. The previous two games were the Colts' comeback win over Houston and the loss in San Diego.
The Colts need to get some pass rush from the veteran, simply because they don't get it from anybody else.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was too comfortable for most of the game and was able to find crossing patterns with relative ease. Against Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals next week, the Colts will have to get pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer to slow down the vertical passing offense.
I like Chuck Pagano, I really do.
But every single week, the Colts come out and look unprepared, dig themselves a big hole and then have to try and climb out of it. While some credit to the teams' ability to come out in the second half and dominate goes to the coaches, they shouldn't really be there in the first place.
The Colts have had issues with focusing against "lesser" opponents. It's pretty well established at this point. They cannot afford to keep coming out like this, because eventually, it all breaks down—like it did against St. Louis last week.
In this case, the 17-3 lead late in the first half never felt insurmountable, because Andrew Luck didn't look completely uncomfortable. If Luck plays well, the Colts will always have a chance to come back. But it shouldn't all be on Luck's shoulders.
The Colts took a two-year hiatus from the top of the AFC South standings. Hopefully, those two years were enough for the rest of the division.
Having defeated each of their AFC South rivals on the road, the Colts now have a three-game lead and an all but insurmountable difference between them and the rest of the division. The Colts may not be a perfect team, but the AFC South is not a good division.
With Andrew Luck at the helm, the rest of the division doesn't have much of a chance. The Colts are now 7-2 against the AFC South since drafting Luck, and the Colts seem to have regained the division.
With the Colts having each of their three wins on the road, they'll have the next three divisional games at home. The road to the division title—both figuratively and literally—runs through Indianapolis.