OK, they had a bye week in there and Luck was in concussion protocol when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 12. But the fact is the Colts will only go as far as their quarterback will take them, and Luck has now led them to three consecutive victories.
It started in Week 9, when the fifth-year franchise quarterback led his team to a 31-26 road win over the Green Bay Packers. After a Week 10 bye, Luck and top weapons Frank Gore and T.Y. Hilton were crisp in an impressive 24-17 victory over the dangerous AFC South rival Tennessee Titans. And on Monday night, that trio was unstoppable in a 41-10 road blowout over the New York Jets.
The Jets weren't good—they barely showed up—but what more could Luck and the Colts do? They were still facing a professional football team in hostile territory, and they put together the most lopsided road victory of the 2016 NFL season.
|Most Lopsided Road Victories in 2016|
|Pro Football Reference|
Luck completed all but six of his 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns in a turnover-free performance, Gore changed the pace with 79 yards on 20 carries, and Hilton had nine catches for 146 yards. Those three continue to set the tone on offense, but the monster grew a fourth head Monday with tight end Dwayne Allen catching a career-high three touchdown passes in the first half.
Is the pass protection good? No, it's a bloody mess. That was no different in Week 13, with Luck constantly facing immediate pressure against a talented and beefy Jets defensive front. But he was in a zone against an otherwise vulnerable and seemingly unprepared defense, and with Gore, Hilton and Allen at his disposal, that hardly mattered.
Is the defense good? Not really. That unit entered Monday's game ranked in the bottom five in the league in terms of both points and yards allowed, and it had just eight takeaways in the Colts' first 11 games. Both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders ranked the Indy D dead last in the NFL. But a lot of that stems from early-season struggles, when the Colts were ravaged by injuries.
They've since become healthier and more effective on that side of the ball. Veteran pass-rusher Trent Cole is back after missing two-plus months, Pro Bowler Vontae Davis—who missed the first two games of the season and wasn't himself early in the year—has the ability to perform as a shutdown corner, and 35-year-old safety Mike Adams continues to flip age the bird. All three played key roles Monday night.
Two weeks after holding the suddenly roaring Titans offense to a respectably low 17 points, the Colts completely shut down the bewildered Jets. Veteran New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was yanked in the third quarter after completing only five of 12 passes. He and replacement Bryce Petty were intercepted three times altogether, and they combined to complete only 16 of 37 throws.
The Jets were held to just three points before they scored a touchdown in garbage time, but in terms of points allowed, it was still Indy's best defensive performance in nearly two years. And it marked just the second time in the Luck era in which they allowed 10 or fewer points and 250 or fewer yards while registering three or more takeaways.
|Colts: Best Defensive Performances Since Start of 2015|
|Game||Points Allowed||Yards Allowed||Takeaways|
|2016 at Jets||10||250||3|
|2015 vs. Bucs||12||344||1|
|2015 at Dolphins||12||361||1|
|2015 vs. Jaguars||13||431||0|
|2015 vs. Texans||16||305||2|
|2016 vs. Titans||17||351||0|
|Pro Football Reference/NFL.com|
The Colts are flawed, but not necessarily to a debilitating extent. And the good news for them is it's been a flaw-plagued NFL season, with Indy in the league's most deeply flawed division.
The Colts, the "AFC South-leading" Houston Texans and the Titans are all 6-6, but if Indy wins at home over slumping Houston in Week 14, it would take the division lead. That would also leave the Texans with a four-game losing streak. And the Colts have already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Titans, who have the toughest remaining schedule among those three.
With Luck healthy and Gore, Hilton and Allen lending their support, Indy should now be viewed as the favorite to win the league's worst division. To avoid being perceived as a default division champ and instead prove that Monday's performance wasn't an anomaly, the Colts will probably have to beat another top-end team, but they'll have opportunities to do exactly that with tough road games in Minnesota and Oakland in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively.
Those 10-2 Raiders might be the best team in the conference, but their defense was gutted Sunday by the Buffalo Bills and one week prior by the Carolina Panthers. The New England Patriots might be the AFC's most feared team, but they'll be without top offensive weapon Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the year. The AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens and Steelers have a combined 10 losses.
Nobody is unbeatable.
At the very least, the Colts now possess the momentum you want when entering the final month of a season like this—the kind of momentum that could carry a flawed team to January victories over flawed opponents.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.