Dec 30 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano coaching on the sidelines against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Colts 28 – Houston 16
Even the opponents paid their respect to Chuck Pagano on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Early in the third quarter, Texans running back Arian Foster ran into the end zone for a 13-yard score, cutting the Colts’ lead to 1. Instead of taunting his defenders, Foster immediately ran to a nearby CHUCKSTRONG banner and patted it a few times. Then he bowed towards it. The small but impactful tribute was just one of the magical moments that befell the Indianapolis Colts in their final regular season outing of 2012. With little to gain but a lot to prove, the Colts beat the top-seeded Texans in their head coach’s first game back on the sidelines since leaving the team to undergo cancer treatment. Pagano is now in complete remission, and while he undoubtedly is the Horseshoe Hero of this Colts team, many players have stepped up to play admirably in his honor.
Award-winning sportswriter Rick Reilly put it best: “Andrew Luck is Mozart in cleats.” Luck put together a symphony of offense on Sunday, throwing for 191 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Luck’s accuracy still needs improvement, but he did throw a career-long 70-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton on a 3rd and 23 in the 4th quarter — remarkable.
Speaking of Hilton, the rookie out of Florida International recorded his 5th 100-yard receiving game, catching 4 passes for 111 yards. Hilton currently leads the NFL with 5 touchdown catches on throws that were more than 20 yards downfield. Tight end Coby Fleener caught the first score of the game — the second of his young career — with a 1-yard reception in the end zone on the Colts’ very first drive. Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne extended his own NFL record by catching at least 3 passes for the 64th-consecutive game.
On the ground, Vick Ballard, yet another rookie, stepped up to the plate by rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.
Luck, Fleener, Hilton, and Ballard were 1st-round, 2nd-round, 3rd-round, and 5th-round picks, respectively, in this year’s NFL draft (Ryan Grigson for GM of the Year?).
Credit also goes to the offensive line for not allowing J.J. Watt to get to Andrew Luck. Watt needed 2.5 sacks to break an NFL record, but he did not get any. That is a huge accomplishment of the O-Linemen.
In Week 15 when the Colts played the Texans in Houston, the Colts defense allowed Arian Foster and Andre Johnson to rack up yards all around them. While Foster and Johnson definitely got going Sunday, the defense did a much better job of containing them, especially in the red zone. The solid defensive effort was largely due to some strong corner play by Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn. Davis intercepted Matt Schaub twice on Sunday, one of which was in the end zone; he now has 3 interceptions over the last 2 games. Davis was picked up in a mid-season trade with the Miami Dolphins (again, Ryan Grigson for GM of the year?).
Dwight Freeney also played strongly, making several key stops in the red zone, including a huge tackle for a loss on third down, and recording one of the team’s 4 sacks of Matt Schaub. Clifton Geathers, Lawrence Guy, and Jamaal Westerman also brought Schaub to the ground before he could get rid of the football.
Deji Karim was signed to the active roster just 2 short weeks ago. On Sunday, he recorded the longest kick return for a touchdown in Indianapolis Colts history, a 101-yarder in the 3rd quarter.
Adam Vinatieri was not needed much on Sunday – a rarity. He did not attempt a single field goal, but he did take the field 4 times to kick 4 perfect PATs after each of the Colts’ touchdowns.
Pat McAfee – snubbed of a Pro Bowl spot, in my opinion – continued his strong play. McAfee removed all doubts of a questionable punt call late in the 2nd quarter by kicking the ball directly to the Texans’ own 3-yard line. He currently has the 2nd-best punting average in the AFC. McAfee’s contract is up at the end of this year. If the Colts do not re-sign him, I may cry.
The Texans have never won at Lucas Oil Stadium — they are now 0-11 in Indianapolis. Can the Colts keep their winning streak going into the playoffs? We will find out next week when the Colts will likely take on the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of postseason action. Horseshoe Hero will have the game recap for you next week.
Stay CHUCKSTRONG, Colts fans! This truly has been a magical regular season.