The Colts Are in the Playoffs
INDIANAPOLIS – The rebuild is definitely ahead of schedule.
And a 2018 postseason appearance is coming with it, as the Colts won their 10th game of the season on Sunday night, securing the 6th and final seed in the AFC.
What did we learn from the Colts beating the Titans, 33-17, in Nashville?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
Colts Earn Playoff Spot Through Trench Play: It was fitting that the Colts earned their playoff berth on Sunday night in the rain, behind another impressive trench performance. The group up front helped pave the way for Marlon Mack’s 4th 100-yard rushing game of the season and protected Andrew Luck as the QB was hit only twice. Last year, Chris Ballard was embarrassed at times watching his teams in the trenches against AFC South opponents. On Sunday night, he watched his offensive line control things and pave the way to this postseason berth. Along with the stellar trench play, this win had the Colts receive a quick start from their star quarterback, a timely kick from their Hall of Famer and a closing interception by the should-be Defensive Rookie of the Year. All of this summed up how this season went from 1-5 to a team playing in the month of January.
Timely D Does It Again: Vacation isn’t starting for the Colts in the first week of January because of how well their defense has played in 2018. The quarterback gauntlet hasn’t been brutal, but that unit has done its job to play meaningful football in January. Yes, the Leonard pick sealed the victory on Sunday night, but Kenny Moore had a huge INT of his own on a 3rd-and-6, early in the 4th quarter, with the margin just 7 points in favor of the Colts. The Colts recorded a turnover in 15 of 16 games this season, the most for the franchise since 2007. Derrick Henry had 93 rushing yards on 16 carries, so the Colts went the entire season not allowing a 100-yard rusher. It was not always perfect for the 2018 Colts defense, but their knack for key turnovers propelled them to a season few realistically expected.
Luck’s Great Start: The second-quarter interception was the definition of boneheaded, and gave the Titans some life, but let’s not forget about how Andrew Luck started Sunday’s game. In the most high-staked regular season game of his career, Luck was rock solid in the Colts taking a 14-0 lead on the road. He led a pair of 90-yard touchdown drives by completing 13 of his first 15 passes. The 3rd-and-8 touchdown to Dontrelle Inman on the Colts’ first drive was just vintage Luck pirouetting away from the rush, and throwing a strike into the end zone, which was blanketed with 8 Titans in pass coverage. Luck finished Sunday night 24-of-35 for 285 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Luck was a bit emotional after Sunday’s win and how can you blame him. Last December, Luck was celebrating Christmas in the Netherlands. This December, Luck just led the Colts on a historic end-of-the-season run into the playoffs.
Clean Up Penalties, Turnovers: Like any good head coach, Frank Reich pointed out the need to clean up the penalties and turnovers we saw from the Colts on Sunday night. Reich knows a 2-turnover game with 12 penalties isn’t going to fly on the road in the playoffs. Blaine Gabbert-quarterbacked teams aren’t waiting in the month of January. Of course, that’s what could provide optimism for the Colts heading into the postseason. Yes, the competition level rises significantly. But it’s not like the Colts played their best in Week 17 at all. A potential road path of Texans, Chiefs and Patriots will not be travelled though unless the Colts make sure they aren’t helping out their opponents like they did on Sunday night.
Rubber Match in Houston: For the just the third time in NFL history, a team that started a season 1-5 has gone on to make the playoffs. The 10-6 Wild Card berth for the Colts ended a rare three-year postseason drought for the Indy era. The Colts are off to Houston for a late Saturday afternoon matchup in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The two teams split one-possession games (with the road team winning each game) this season. After starting the season a combined 1-5, the Colts and Texans ended up making the playoffs. The Colts will have some very key injuries to monitor this week. Will Ryan Kelly or Clayton Geathers be ready to go? Also, a fully 100 percent T.Y. Hilton is a major priority going up against a team he has absolutely torched in his career.
- Reich Quotable: On going from 1-5 to 10-6 and making the postseason: “To do what we just did is a pretty good feeling, a pretty good feeling. To be 1-5 and to do something that only 2 (other) teams have done in the history of this league, is quite an accomplishment. It’s a real credit to the guys and we talk about three things: trust, toughness and team. That’s what the foundation is. That’s what the culture is. That’s what the belief is. Those aren’t just words. We lived that this year and we aren’t done yet.”
- Player Quotable: Quarterback Andrew Luck on returning to football this season: “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that it is about the journey in a sense. It’s about the process and I have enjoyed that a lot. Certainly, winning makes it fun. I’m so thankful that I am in good health and I get to play the game that I love with an amazing group of men. So thankful, certainly, (and) fulfilled in a sense. This has been a fulfilling year to this point. Not satisfied, we certainly have business to take care of, but this has been really fun and I’m glad I get to play the greatest team game in the world with the greatest locker room in the world.”
- Injury Report: The following players were inactive on Sunday: OL-Le’Raven Clark, CB-Jalen Collins, WR-Reece Fountain, C-Ryan Kelly, LB-Ahmad Thomas, RB-Jonathan Williams and S-Clayton Geathers. Three of the seven inactives are injury related: Geathers, Fountain and Kelly. Rookie DL-Tyquan Lewis left late in the second quarter with a right knee injury and did not return.
- Key Stat: Andrew Luck is now 11-0 all-time against the Titans. He’s the first QB in NFL history to start a career 11-0 against another opponent.
-What’s Next: The Colts (10-6) are the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs. They will travel to Houston for a 4:35 PM kick on Saturday, taking on the No. 3 seed Texans (11-5).
PHOTO: Getty Images/Andy Lyons