Well, we saw more of the same this week. Since Reggie Wayne’s injury, things have gone somewhat poorly for the Colts. They’ve won three close games over two floundering division rivals by an average of 4.7 points and been beaten soundly by everyone else. Indianapolis has lost to the Rams, Cardinals, and Bengals by a combined 74-point margin (though if not for a bad call at the end of the half by Jeff Tripplette, this could easily have been a one score game).
Life without Reggie Wayne (and Donald Thomas, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, and Dwayne Allen) has been rough.
The Colts finally unleashed Andrew Luck and came to life for a while in the second half, but against a quality opponent, it just wasn’t enough. Fortunately, they get the 2-11 Texans at home next week, which brings us to the good news – yes, there are some positives after this odd 3-3 stretch.
First, the Colts and Texans have each seen wave after wave of players miss time with injuries. Houston has 10 players, three of them starters, on IR, and the Colts have 12 with 5 starters out for the season (counting Bradshaw).
The difference? Well there are actually several, starting with the quarterback position, but the biggest difference has been the Colts are still winning here and there, clinging to a division championship, and stumbling into the playoffs while the Texans are, well, not. Indy hasn’t been great in the face of adversity, but they certainly haven’t been Houston, which hasn’t won since September 15.
Second, Da’Rick Rogers may not be a mirage, after all. Rogers, getting some playing time in place of the wayward Hayward-Bey, had 6 catches on 9 targets for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yes, one of them was in garbage time, but if Rogers can continue to be a reliable receiver, to earn Andrew Luck’s trust, (he nearly reeled in Luck’s second worst pass of the day) Indianapolis may have their much-needed second wide receiver in the coming weeks. Oh, and LaVon Brazill can get open, too. More on that later.
On to the game. The story of the first half is a short and familiar one. The Colts went 0/6 on third down, punting on their first four possessions.
They tried to run to set up the pass, keeping Luck sort of harnessed – 10/20 for 96 yards, while the running game faltered (Trent Richardson: 4 car. 12 yds. Donald Brown: 3 car. 6 yds). Richardson would finish with 6 carries for 20 yards, 3.3 ypc, his second “best” rushing game since October 14th (presented without comment).
Indy’s defense held Cincinnati in check early after giving up a touchdown on their first drive, forcing three straight punts, but they eventually wore down, giving up another scoring drive to the red-hot Bengals and a 14-0 lead. On the play, on fourth down, Colts NT Josh Chapman tripped up Benjarvus Green-Ellis short of the goal line. After a surprisingly lengthy review, official Jeff Triplette overturned the ruling on the field, calling it a touchdown.
The Colts mounted a 10 play, 62-yard drive to regain some momentum later in the second quarter, but Adam Vinatieri missed his first field goal since November 3, leaving Indianapolis scoreless going into halftime.
Cincinnati marched right back down the field to start the second half and took a 21-0 lead on Green-Ellis’s second (or first?) touchdown run.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the Colts answered back quickly. Indy faced a 3rd and 5 after a 5-yard run by Donald Brown. Andrew Luck surveyed the defense and threw a slant to Da’Rick Rogers, who caught it for the team’s first third down conversion of the day, then powered through a couple tacklers and galloped 69 yards to pay dirt. 21-7, Bengals.
The Colts defense held up their end of the deal, setting up a punt that took a tremendous Indianapolis bounce to the Bengals 48 yard line. Two plays after he scrambled for 29 yards, Luck found LaVon Brazill for another short slant. Brazill fought through some contact from the cornerback, caught the ball, and proceeded to break six tackles, evading a seventh defender for a 19-yard touchdown.
Suddenly, it was 21-14 (14-14 if not for the strange call). This was a game again. The Colts were storming back again. Sadly, it did not last. Cincinnati answered back with a touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to TE Jermaine Gresham and a 28-14 lead. After a quick three and out by Indy, Dalton found A.J. Green from 9 yards out for a 35-14 lead, and the route was (back) on.
The Colts mounted two more touchdown drives, the first ending with a perfectly thrown 29-yard pass to LaVon Brazill with the game still in reach, and the second a 2-yard screen pass to Rogers inside the two minute warning.
It wasn’t enough, however, as the two scores were sandwiched around an 8-yard touchdown run by Andy Dalton.
Currently, the Colts are limping. They’re 3-3 since the bye after starting the season 5-2, but they’re not down. Next up, a team that truly is down: the Houston Texans. Take care of free falling Houston at home, and things quickly begin looking brighter – not "contender" brighter, perhaps, but certainly brighter.
A few notes, in no predetermined order:
– I talked quite a bit about Rogers, but LaVon Brazill had a strong showing as well, with 3 catches on 4 targets and a pair highlight reel touchdowns. Coming into this game, Pro Football Focus said Brazill had caught all eight of what they consider his catchable targets. He and Rogers each are making a compelling case to supplant Darrius Heyward-Bey.
– Early in the first, the Colts stopped a Bengals running back for a short gain when Jerrell Freeman engaged the fullback, and Kelvin Sheppard waited in the gap and crushed the runner. The next play was a big gain. Much of the game went this way.
– Several penalties, as well as a phantom touchdown that should have made this a one score game at the end, were horrible calls. Those penalties on Kelvin Sheppard (taunting while down two scores) and LaRon Landry (ripping a guy’s helmet off) were not among them. Landry grabbed the guy's helmet, hands down.
– Jeff Triplette had a rough day at work. It certainly wasn't his first horrid performance as an NFL official. I attempted to be positive or nice about it all, considering how negative I'd been throughout the game. Thirty minutes after the game ended, it seemed like the decent thing to do. I'm tired of being roasted for it. Besides, you guys are right. He should stick to his day job.
Seriously, he just says "goal line," over and over. This could have been a one score game. Had Brazill's second TD tied things up, things may have been much different. Of course, they might not have, but now we'll never know.
– Andrew Luck in the first half: 10/20, 96 yds. Certainly, no one should blame that all on the play calling.
– Andrew Luck in the second half: 19/26, 230 yds, 4 touchdowns. Maybe, just maybe, Indianapolis might play as though they’re behind in the first quarter at home next week, like it's already halftime. Unleashe Luck, so to speak. Maybe? Please?