Indianapolis Colts' Deji Karim, left, runs back a kickoff 101-yards for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Welcome back Chuck.
Today, the Colts won in their first game with Chuck Pagano back at the helm after three rounds of chemotherapy. They also prevented J.J. Watt, who looked unblockable against them three weeks ago, from breaking the single season sack record (22.5), from which he was only two away. Houston is now 0-11 in Indianapolis, and the Colts, who many expected to be cellar dwellers this season, are 11-5.
They had some savvy plays from Andrew Luck, and harassed Schaub in the pocket all day. They made just enough plays, plus a few incredible special teams plays to come away with another victory.
Andrew Luck had a good first half, and despite completing only 50% of his passes, had an impressive day overall against Houston’s suffocating defense, mixing in some nice check downs and intermediate passes to keep the Texans’ defense guessing. He also had what some called a gift when a sack-fumble was overturned by the tuck rule that would have given Houston the ball at the Colts 18-yard line Luck’s first half quarterback rating was 96.1 before the final drive (1/4, 9 yds), finishing the half with a respectable 80.9 rating and a 14-6 lead.
The most impressive thing about the rookie quarterback in this game was how he looked like a veteran before the snap. He varied his cadence, he had silent counts, he and even quick-snapped it a couple times, drawing penalties on the Texans and keeping their pass rushers tentative.
Penalties would make a difference the game, with the Colts playing a disciplined football game (3 penalties for just 24 yards), and the Texans finishing with nine penalties for 64 yards.
Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown to Coby Fleener to finish of Indianapolis’ first drive of the game, and then the defense went to work on the league’s sixth ranked scoring offense, holding Schaub and the Texans to two field goals in the first half.
After returning to their sputtering ways through the middle of the half, the offense managed to push the lead to 14-6 just ahead of the two-minute warning with a nice drive after one of Vontae Davis’ interceptions set them up with a short field. Luck, drawing the defense offside, appeared to throw a touchdown to T.Y. Hilton, but Hilton was ruled down at the one-yard line. Instead of challenging, Indianapolis chose to punch the ball in on the next play with Vick Ballard.
On the touchdown play, Colts backup linebacker Mario Harvey, as he did in several short yardage situations, lined up at fullback and made a savage lead block. Harvey looked as though he couldn’t wait to blow up a defensive player and had his man three yards deep in the end zone by the time Ballard forced his way across the plane.
In the second half, Houston came back out looking like they were going to take control of a close game. The Colts looked worn out on defense, and Arian Foster was running wild. Houston scored on a 13-yard run by Foster to pull to 14-13, then followed up with a 37-yard Shane Graham field goal to take a 16-14 lead after a three and out by the Colts offense.
Suddenly, Houston held a slim lead and all the momentum after rattling off 10 unanswered points. The Colts needed to do something to regain their edge. They needed a touchdown drive, or even a field goal drive, or…a kickoff returned for a touchdown. Deji Karim, who was watching games from his couch as recently as a month ago, took the ball right up the middle of the field untouched for a 101-yard touchdown. Karim had some excellent blocking in front of him, including a nice one to spring him by Mewelde Moore, who had such a miserable game the last time he played against the Texans.
At 21-16, though, the game was far from over. The Texans needed just one more touchdown drive to take back the lead, and the Colts offense was struggling.
Indy’s defense, however, was not going to let Pagano’s return end in a loss. The results of the Texans’ three drives after Karim’s touchdown were punt, missed field goal, and Vontae Davis’s second interception. Davis raced cleanly ahead of the receiver to catch the ball almost as though it were intended for him.
While the defense was putting a surprising crunch time chokehold on Houston, the Colts offense came back to life too. After two bad plays and a holding penalty negating a nice pass to Reggie Wayne, they faced a 3rd and 23 from their own 30-yard line. What came next was the highlight of the game: Luck had some decent protection as T.Y. Hilton raced downfield on a deep route. Luck hit him in stride with one of his most beautifully thrown passes of the year for a 70-yard touchdown and the final margin in the game, 28-16.
After Davis’s aforementioned interception, the Colts finished the Texans off with a 16-play 63-yard drive that ate up the final 9:46 off the clock. After eight straight runs, Luck hit Reggie Wayne for the game-icing first down at the Houston 14-yard line. Game over. The Colts would run out the clock with three kneel-downs and a standing ovation from the 87th consecutive sellout crowd.
Outgained by the Texans 352-265, the Colts managed to claw their way to a surprisingly convincing final margin and a win against a very quality opponent in Chuck Pagano’s first game back on the sidelines.
11-5. Playoff bound. No one outside of the Colts organization thought it was possible. They still didn’t do particularly well statistically, but this Colts team sure knows how to force their opponent to slog through an ugly, physical game. And in an ugly, physical game, my money is on Indianapolis. I just didn’t’ think I’d be saying that for a couple more years.
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