Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) catches a 7-yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo. The Colts won 20-13. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
op·por·tun·ism [op-er-too-niz-uh m, -tyoo-] noun
1. the policy or practice, as in politics, business, or one's personal affairs, of adapting actions, decisions, etc., to expediency or effectiveness regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles. (Source: Dictionary.com)
Very applicable apart from the disregard of ethics part.
It Doesn't Have to be Pretty
Today, with 0:49 left in the first half, and the Colts driving toward what would end up being another Adam Vinatieri field goal, Andrew Luck broke the NFL record for passing yards by a rookie. There was no celebration, no pats on the back or hugs from teammates, not even a subdued fist pump, just a timeout to stop the clock in a crucial scoring situation with a tenuous lead. Luck jogged to the sideline to strategize on getting into scoring position on a day where moving the chains had been difficult. For the Colts, and for Luck, it’s about winning and accepting nothing less.
Just a few hours earlier, in the fourth quarter of the Falcons-Lions game, Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yardage record. A wild celebration ensued. While it was certainly a bigger accomplishment than a rookie record (and a home game), the Lions were down 31-16 late in the fourth quarter. It was garbage time.
It could be argued that the Lions just needed something to celebrate, and is more than a little valid. However, there is no denying the Colts, and their impressive rookie’s professional attitude. Just tune everything else out and win. This attitude is why the Indianapolis Colts are in the playoffs, while other clubs with seemingly similar talent levels are fighting for, well, pride and roster spots right now.
The first half today was a statistical blowout. Before the touchdown drive and final, icing kneel downs, Indianapolis had been outgained 507-202 by the talented but inconsistent Chiefs. The Colts had little to no pass protection and not much to speak of in the running game early on. But, somehow, they would be in position to seize the day at the end.
As the offense sputtered, the defense gave up huge chunks of yards to the hapless Chiefs. But, as they are wont to do, they took advantage of every opportunity that came their way. Thanks to some timely pressure, a pick-six from Darius Butler, and a fumble deep in Colts territory, the Colts went into the half with a 13-3 lead despite being manhandled by the Chiefs.
The second half began the same way, with the disturbing trend toward poor run defense turning into something much worse: an 86-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles right out of the gate, closing the gap to 13-10. The Colts’ offense came out and sputtered to a three and out, only to see Kansas City pick up right where they left off with big play after big play.
But, opportunism struck again. Freeney bull rushed into Brady Quinn’s face at the 14-yard line, being held by the tackle, and Vontae Davis picked off Quinn’s pass in the end zone.
Luck and the offense couldn’t capitalize, however, and the exhausted defense trotted back onto the field, albeit inside the 20 after another brilliant punt by Pat McAfee. Vontae Davis came up with another interception, but a questionable pass interference gave the Chiefs a first down at the 30-yard line. The run defense held strong, thanks in part to a punishing hit by ILB Jerrell Freeman, and then Freeney, being held again, came through for a monster third down sack. While one could beg the question of why Kansas City didn’t just run the ball again, there is no denying the joy Colts fans felt in seeing Freeney break out the old salute after his 106th (and a half) career sack.
Kansas City tied the game at 13 with a field goal, but there was a feeling after Freeney’s clutch play that momentum could very well swing back to the Colts, but…in came the punt team again. The Chiefs came back out with Charles eclipsing the 200-yard mark in impressive, video game like fashion. But the Colts defense, battered and worn, managed to do just enough to keep the punt exchange going and the game would continue that way through the third quarter.
Colts fans saw more of the same until the fourth. The chiefs got the ball early in the quarter, understandably holding all confidence that they should take the lead against Indy’s tired defense. The Colts, however, would never give up. After key stops from people like Lawrence Guy and Martin Tevaseu, followed Antoine Bethea’s monster stop of Peyton Hillis for no gain, the Chiefs elected to go for it on fourth and one. And why shouldn’t they? They had gained nearly 10 yards per carry on the day. But Robert Mathis stopped Quinn short of the first down on the quarterback sneak. The Colts struggling offense took over with a chance to take a fourth quarter lead. Sound familiar?
The Colts started at their own 27 yard line. There were some odd plays, but for the most part, they moved the ball efficiently, with a couple strong runs and some smart short passes from Luck, neutralizing Kansas City’s furious pass rush (where had these short passes been all game?). After a strange, designed wide receiver pass by T.Y. Hilton went terribly wrong, Andrew Luck threw a beautiful 7-yard touchdown over the middle to Reggie Wayne with 4:12 remaining. 20-13, Colts.
The Chiefs got the ball back and were treated to a three and out courtesy of a rejuvenated Colts defense, which was finally rested after a sustained drive by Luck and company. After burning up the Chiefs’ final timeouts, Vick Ballard iced the game with a 13-yard run on third and long. Victory Formation. Bruce Arians danced on the sideline. The Colts, despite being dominated for 50+ minutes, were playoff bound. And their beloved coach, Chuck Pagano, is expected to join them at work on Monday.
This victory, incredible though it was, did not come without some serious concerns. As the defense continued to tiptoe on the edge of disaster only to ride to the rescue at the perfect moment, and the offense sputtered in fits and starts, two questions arose among Colts fans.
1. Why on earth, when protection is such an issue, were the Colts continuing to attempt almost exclusively deep passes? The play calling forced the struggling offensive line to try to hold their blocks longer than they were able. It doesn’t take a parent to recognize abuse. And it doesn’t take a football coach to recognize what needs to be done in the face of heavy pressure: short drops, short passes and screens. The Colts would eventually adjust, much to the chagrin of the Chiefs. But why did it take so long? We may never know.
2. How on earth were the Chiefs able to completely dominate in this game, only to give up another game winning drive by Andrew Luck and the Colts? Indy should never have been in such a position after giving up 507 yards to Kansas City. This game should have been a blowout. But the Indy would not be denied a victory, even by their own mistakes.
All those worries about the way it happened aside, the Indianapolis Colts, outplayed in this game, outscored on the season, and expected to finish last in 2012, are, improbable as it may be, playoff bound. They have taken advantage of every auspicious situation that comes their way. This team defines opportunism, and their future looks exciting.
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