Photo Credits: (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Indianapolis Colts' Instagram Account)
Sometimes, ugly wins are a thing of beauty.
Today, the Colts were hoping to recover from last week’s blowout loss. “Favored” by one point at home, against the 1-5 Cleveland Browns, nothing was certain. Cleveland came into the game with the rookie leader in passing yards in Brandon Weeden, and a very good offensive line. They also brought a big, bruising, talented back in Trent Richardson, part of a trio of bad matchups for the Indy defense. This was a team primed to run over, through and cruise on past the injury-riddled Colts defense. A loss today at home could have dealt a brutal blow to this young team’s confidence. The Colts took the field feeling the weight of the pressure to win, pressure to prove they were, in fact, building the monster, that they were still a team holding great promise for the future. They needed to prove they could still win this season. (Some even argued that a loss could foretell the end to their streak of 83 consecutive regular season sellouts.)
As we know now, these young Indianapolis Colts delivered. They rose up when the pressure was the greatest. They got some great play from players who had previously struggled, most notably the run defense, offensive line/running backs, and, yes, Tom Zbikowski. In fact, these Colts turned this game upside-down as far as what many expected it to be. They ran the ball well, 37 times for 148 yards (4 ypc) and two Andrew Luck rushing touchdowns, limited Cleveland to 17 carries for 55 yards (3.2 ypc), and controlled the clock, dominating in time of possession. Did anyone expect this? Did anyone expect Cleveland to pass well, struggle to run, and struggle to stop the run? That is the role we thought the Colts would play. Cleveland was supposed to be able to run the ball at will against Indy’s depleted defensive front, but it was the Colts, punishing Cleveland’s defensive front, gaining 10 first downs and 2 scores on the ground. On a day when our expectations were turned upside, the Colts came through with just enough plays to come away victorious. Here is what I observed:
On the first drive of the game, Luck was on fire, hitting Reggie Wayne on a deep pass, throwing a nice short completion to Ballard that turned into a big gain, and finishing it off with his best Cam Newton impression on a brilliant touchdown run. I was happy to see the return of the short pass to the Colts offense. 7-0, Colts
On the ensuing drive, Richardson’s first 4 carries went for just 7 yards, but Weeden reminded us that he is the leader in pass yardage among rookie quarterbacks. After his impressive touchdown pass (and bobbled catch by Greg Little), Cleveland missed their extra point on a botched hold that nearly became a Charlie Brown moment. 7-6, Colts
The Colts answered back with 14-play 76-yard drive, again punctuated by a great rushing touchdown from Andrew Luck. This was a smart run by Luck. The defense took away both options on the right side of the field as he rolled that way. Luck recognized this, and turned on the jets for his second rushing touchdown. 14-6, Colts
The half ended on a Hail Mary pass from Weeden (batted down by Jerraud Powers) after a strange time out call from Arians with 1 second left on 4th and 4. 14-6, Colts.
The first half looked like we were in for something similar to a shootout with the Browns, with very little defense from either team. The Colts controlled the ball with 16:24 of possession in the first half, 197 total yards including 15 runs for 60 yards and Luck’s two touchdown runs, while holding Cleveland to 2.8 yards per carry. Luck and Weeden were both impressive, completing 10-18 and 13-19 passes respectively. Both teams converted 5-7 3rd downs, and until just over 4 minutes left in the second quarter, neither team had forced a punt. But when that first stop finally happened, it was the Colts defense that came through.
In the second half, Cleveland got the ball first and raced 80 yards downfield in just over 3 minutes, with Brandon Weeden throwing passes of 8, 14, 25, and 33 yards, the last of which was a TD to Josh Gordon. 14-13, Colts
The Colts answered back with a 17-play drive that only netted 61 yards. They had a beautiful 4th down conversion with Delone Carter getting the carry from the fullback position, but the momentum turned one play later when Andrew Luck was sacked for a 5-yard loss. Then came a penalty on right tackle Winston Justice. Indy had to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri. 17-13, Colts
After that, both teams traded punts for a while. The Colts defense began to look very good (or the Browns offense played very poorly), while Indy's offense struggled with three 3-and-outs in four drives.
With 4:08 remaining, Cleveland got the ball again. The Colts defense managed to stand strong one more time, forcing the Browns to punt after consecutive incompletions credited to Pat Angerer and Jerraud Powers, who had struggled for much of the game.
The Colts got the ball back with 1:54 remaining. The offense, which had struggled throughout the second half needed one more good drive to win the game. They responded with a clock-eater, handing off 5 straight times to Vick Ballard for 26 yards. Do not discount how important this drive was to this young team. When they needed it most, the Colts were able to impose their will on the opposing team with great blocking and powerful running from Ballard.
When Cleveland got the ball back, there was only one second left. Just enough time for one of those comical lateral plays that ended with Lefeged, tackling Josh Cribbs at the Cleveland 42. Game over. 17-13, Colts
Some quick grades:
Offense: B- They played great in the first half and did just enough to pull through in the end. Vick Ballard finished with 20 carries for 84 yards, very similar to Donald Brown's nice outing against Green Bay.
Defense: B+ They stopped the run and let Weeden try to beat them, which he nearly did, with 264 yards and no interceptions. The Colts defense continues to struggle to force any turnovers.
Special Teams: A Great punt and kick coverage. The only time the Browns could get a good return was when they held, and they were caught every time. At one crucial point in the second half, Pat McAfee boomed a 51-yard punt, and Levon Brazil came in and blasted Josh Cribbs for no gain on the return.
Overall, this was a great win. It was an ugly win, but I think this is the type of team that will relish an ugly win.