The Colts (5-2) have now beaten three teams that are favorites to go to the Super Bowl. San Francisco, Seattle, and now Denver have all fallen to Indianapolis. If the playoffs started today, the Colts would be the three seed and the Broncos fifth.
While the win was impressive, it was tainted with the loss of Reggie Wayne who is done for the season with a torn ACL. Losing Wayne has made it feel as if the Colts didn’t win Sunday night. Wayne played in 189 straight games for the Colts, the only player to have played in more games in Indianapolis now quarterbacks the Broncos.
Here’s what we took away from Sunday night’s win:
- Reggie Wayne. It’s impossible to accurately state what Wayne means to this team. The fact that he decided to stick around with the new regime speaks volumes. He is a consummate professional who is still productive at 34. Losing him is a devastating blow for the Colts and its going to be difficult to replace him on the field. He is one of the few players that the Colts couldn’t afford to lose. How this team and its coaches respond following his loss will speak volumes about Indy’s ceiling. Hearing the fans chant “REG-GIE” as he is down on the field gave me chills.
- Andrew Luck. Luck didn’t have his most amazing game, but four touchdowns and no turnovers is really impressive. He continues to make outstanding plays on the field. Hopefully he won’t keep kicking himself over the throw that led to Wayne’s injury. That kinda The Colts now lack a reliable possession receiver without Wayne and my biggest fear is that the Colts shell up and go with run heavy sets from here on out. That would negate all the positives we saw on Sunday night. When the Colts let Luck do his thing, they were incredibly productive and able to move the ball with ease. The win earned Luck AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors as well.
- Pep Hamilton. In the first quarter I was cursing his name. I questioned his abilities as an offensive coordinator in the NFL as he was telegraphing his plays, taking TY Hilton off the field and being too conservative. But as the game progressed he pulled out some amazing plays. The flat pass on a fake end around to Darrius Heyward-Bey was amazing. He did a great job exploiting the Broncos weaknesses. What makes him so frustrating is when he reverts to plays that simply don’t work. Sure, Stanley Havili had a solid game, but he shouldn’t be a featured player. The Colts are better at running the ball when he’s on the sideline. The Colts need to run plays that suit their strengths more often and they need to recognize that the middle of the offensive line isn’t that good. Hamilton has room to grow, and hopefully he’ll become more creative and let Luck cut lose more often.
- Pass Rush. Manning is notoriously difficult to sack due to his quick release. He is the perfect example of how sacks are just as much a product of the the quarterback as the offensive line (a skill that Luck sorely needs to develop). He was sacked four times by the Colts, nearly double the number of times he’s been sacked all season. Robert Mathis was a monster with two sacks, a fumble, and four QB hits. He wanted that first sack more than anything in his entire life, too. It wasn’t just Mathis, either. The pocket around Manning was small all night he was hit 10 times. The constant pressure and great coverage down field led to Manning’s lowest completion percentage all season.
- The Boomstick. Pat McAfee was a beast. After a horrible punt early in the game, he was booming them all night. But the best moment was when he knocked the hell out of Trindon Holliday on a kickoff return. McAfee averaged 48.9 yards per punt Sunday and four of his eight kickoffs were touchbacks. His season hasn’t been that great, but he brought it Sunday night.
- Jim Irsay. Is it possible his inane and annoying comments were a ploy to create a distraction that not only disrupted Manning but also took the focus off his team? Its four days later and ESPN is still talking about Irsay’s pre- and post game comments. How much talk was there about this Colts team and what they could accomplish last week? Luck barely even had to answer questions about following in Manning’s footsteps. Yes, Irsay created a spectacle and said a lot of things that many don’t agree with, but the Colts were the team that was more focused and driven. Irsay has been around the block a few times, making the media focus on the owner over the team sounds a lot like master level gamesmanship in hindsight (now, if only someone would change his twitter password).
- The Fans. Indy fans can be the absolute best fans in the world, and they proved it Sunday night. I was worried that too many Colts fans were in reality Peyton Manning fans. Its evident with all the orange #18 jerseys running around town. But after a standing ovation for Manning before the game, that stadium became an extremely hostile environment for the former hero. As many posted on twitter, it took them multiple days to recover from the game and some fans don’t have a voice four days later. It was a playoff atmosphere and as loud as Lucas Oil has ever been. Every Denver snap was met with a deafening roar that didn’t abate even after successful plays. The most surreal moment had to be the loud cheers every time Manning was sacked.
The Colts have a bye week to get healthy after a plethora of minor injuries against the Broncos. Up next will be a trip to Houston to face the 2-5 Texans for another Sunday night game.
The Colts have a firm grasp on the AFC South with a two game lead, but a win over this perplexing Texans team will go a long way towards locking up the division early.
Don’t forget to follow us on twitter, @InkOnIndy.