Titans vs. Colts: 5 Things We Learned from Indianapolis' 27-13 Win
Pop those champagne bottles, Colts fans. For the next three days, your team is a winner, and no one can tell you any different.
That’s right, the Colts finally found an opponent so dysfunctional even they had a shot at beating them, and that they did, securing their first victory of the season on Sunday against division rival Tennessee.
The win was fueled solely by pride and solely for pride does it matter, as the Colts have already been mathematically eliminated from accomplishing any meaningful achievement this season, but it does come as a huge relief for the franchise and anyone who cares about it and it does shake up the race for next year’s No. 1 draft pick, which the Colts seemed to be completely running away with until today’s surprising performance.
Is anyone convinced Indy’s troubles are over now that they’ve finally won their first game?
Of course not.
But one win does make a whole lot of difference when your team is 0-13 going in, and now that we know the Colts won’t go completely winless this season, there’s no way we can look at them quite the same anymore.
Here’s a look at what changed, the five things we learned from Indy’s ever-elusive first win of the year.
1. The 2011 Colts Are Not the Worst Team Ever
Everybody knows the 2011 Colts are an awful football team.
They’ve lost 13 of 14 games. They’ve started three different quarterbacks this season. They’ve been outscored 395-211 on the year and at one point they went nine straight games without even gaining a lead.
They’re bad. Epically bad. Memorably bad.
But the worst ever?
Not with two other NFL teams having gone completely winless and nine having won just a single game.
They’re definitely still in the conversation and we’ll definitely still remember how bad they were long after this season ends, particularly because it was the first time we’ve seen them play without All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning in the lineup in over a decade.
But now that they have a win to their credit, the Colts are no longer a threat to the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) or the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) for the title of “worst ever,” and even though that distinction alone is something no team should be proud of, it’s definitely a comforting thought for Colts fans after enduring 13 straight games of absolute futility from this 2011 squad.
That’s one small step for pride, one giant leap for Jim Caldwell’s fading job security.
2. The Colts Are Not "Sucking for Luck"
If the Colts were intentionally losing games this season in order to try and steal next year’s No. 1 draft pick, as many have accused them of doing, now would be an extraordinarily poor time for them to suddenly secure a win.
Thanks to today’s victory, the 1-13 Colts are now leading the Suck for Luck Sweepstakes by just a single game.
The 2-12 Minnesota Vikings have lost six games in a row and are starting a rookie at quarterback.
Those are far tougher opponents than what Indianapolis has in store for it (a banged-up 10-4 Texans team that’s already locked up its division and a struggling 4-10 Jaguars team whose head coach was fired just three weeks ago), and together they virtually ensure it will take at least 14 losses this season to have a shot at next year’s top pick.
Why would the Colts win this game—a contest that would have otherwise represented that crucial 14th loss—if the ultimate goal is to finish with the league’s worst record?
The answer is they wouldn’t, and the reality this revelation implies makes a whole lot more sense than the alternative: The Colts don’t “suck for luck,” they just plain suck.
Curtis Painter wasn’t trying to hurt his team any time they hiked the ball to him earlier this season. Not at all.
No, see, Curtis Painter just sucks at playing quarterback. It’s just that simple. No devious master plan here. No secret conspiracy. The guy is just a terrible professional football player. What do you expect?
The same goes for Austin Collie. And Dallas Clark. And Jim Caldwell.
Those guys weren’t just pretending to be useless all season in Peyton Manning’s absence, they really do need the franchise quarterback playing to have any relevance in their positions.
Let’s put this controversy to rest once and for all.
Suck for Luck?
No sir, the 2011 Colts just suck for suck!
3. Indy’s Backfield Is a Total Mystery
The Colts will have no shortage of tough decisions to make in the coming offseason about the future of their team, but one dilemma that may prove particularly tough to resolve with any confidence is evaluating their cluttered, inconsistent backfield.
Donald Brown is a hero this week after running for 161 yards and a touchdown, but that total is more than double his production of any other game all season. Is one outstanding performance enough to secure him a feature role in the offense moving forward?
Maybe, but only because his competition for that placement has been so weak all year.
Rookie Delone Carter looks like he should be a starting back, but so far he hasn’t lived up to that potential (he’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry on almost 100 attempts so far).
Joseph Addai is the default go-to guy simply because he’s more familiar with the offense than the others and is its most consistent blocker, but he’s habitually injured, rarely explosive and, for this season at least, the backfield’s least productive member.
Which of these guys will be the man next season and, more importantly, which of them deserves to be?
Brown took a big step towards answering that question today but will probably need a similar performance to put the issue to rest for good.
Is there any chance at all he does so with just two games left?
4. The Colts Are Still a Division Force
Peyton Manning’s polished public image has helped make the Colts an easy team to root for on a national level.
More locally, however, the Colts are actually something of a super villain.
The AFC South has existed for 10 seasons and Indianapolis has been the division’s champion seven times. They’ve gone 44-15 within their division since the 2002 realignment that created it, and three of those losses came earlier this season when Indy was missing its best player.
What today’s win over Tennessee proved is that those years of experience have not been lost on the Colts, and even though Houston has clearly built a team that should challenge the boys in blue for AFC South supremacy on a yearly basis at this point, the Titans and Jaguars are still behind the curve.
The Colts will obviously improve next season and even if that improvement is nowhere near what everyone is expecting after this year’s debacle, today’s victory showed us Indy will still be a contender again simply because they play in a division they pretty much own.
Does this mean more wins may still be coming with both the Colts’ remaining games against other division rivals?
But both of those teams would definitely be wise to not overlook Indianapolis, either.
It’s not like Peyton Manning was the only Colt to make fools of them in games past, after all, now is it?
5. The Defense Deserves Our Praise
We’ve all been very hard on the Indianapolis defense all season long and, until today, there was absolutely no reason not to be.
These guys couldn’t stop anyone for 13 straight games. Receivers would break free from their coverage at will. Running backs would brush off their tackles like potato chip crumbs off a sleeve. Things were bad and, until today, they showed no signs of improving any time soon.
It’s time we give this defense some credit because, let’s be honest: They are the reason the Colts won this game, the only game they’ve won all year.
Indianapolis held the Titans to under 70 rushing yards this afternoon and produced three turnovers. They stopped any offensive rhythm Tennessee threatened to create and kept the game so manageable even Dan Orlovsky’s pathetic 82-passing-yard performance was enough to secure a win.
The pass rush was solid and the secondary play was surprisingly brilliant all day long, too.
Let’s all give it up for the Colts' defense, who proved all their critics wrong today, if only for 60 blissful minutes, and let’s all bask in their glory for as long as we’re able.
Based on the way the rest of this season has played out, after all, we may not get another opportunity to do so for quite some time.