With the Indianapolis Colts’ 9th win of the season, it’s time to acknowledge the “Horseshoe Heroes” of Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns. These are players that went above and beyond their positional requirements and delivered an exceptional performance in what was a comeback 25-24 Colts’ victory:
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) celebrates with guard Jack Mewhort (75) after scoring the game winning touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Cots won 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
T.Y. Hilton: The Indianapolis Colts’ 3rd-year wide receiver has really come into his own this season and on Sunday, he had another brilliant performance. Hilton finished the afternoon with 10 receptions for 150 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. In what was a quiet first half after only having 1 reception for 9 yards (mostly being shadowed by Cleveland Browns All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden), Hilton erupted in the second half to the tune of 9 receptions for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns.
When the Colts needed an answer or a big play, it was Hilton whose number QB Andrew Luck continued to dial up. His 42-yard touchdown with 4:01 left in the 3rd quarter put the Colts within a one score striking distance at 16-21. His second touchdown, a 1-yard reception along the goal line put the Colts up for good at 25-24 in the closing seconds of the 4th quarter. For Colts’ fans, it’s hard not to see Hilton’s uncanny resemblance to future Hall of Famer, Marvin Harrison, in both his elusiveness, fluidity of routes, and big play ability. Luck to Hilton should be a lethal tandem for many years to come.
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) runs for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Luck: It wasn’t Luck’s greatest statistical performance by any means, and he’d really like to have those 3 turnovers back. However, when the Colts needed their star young quarterback, he delivered. Was there any doubt that in the closing minutes of the game that Luck was going to ensure that his team reached the end zone and win the game?
Luck was continuously beaten up and battered behind a makeshift Colts’ offensive line that had 2 starters knocked out with injuries in-game; however, he caught fire in the middle of the second half. He didn’t get fancy or do anything out of the ordinary, but he made the conscientious decision to ride the hot hands of T.Y. Hilton.
All-in-all, Luck was 24 for 53 (45.3%) for 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. However, between the battered offensive line and the handful of wide receiver drops, Luck found a way to keep his team in the game and come away with the comeback win.
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts free safety Darius Butler (20) tackles Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (16) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Colts beat the Browns 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Colts Cornerbacks: The Colts’ secondary was missing its lockdown cornerback in Vontae Davis (out: concussion) facing a Browns’ offense that features All-Pro wideout Josh Gordon. Rather than wallow in self-pity, each Colts’ cornerback rose to the occasion. Whether it was Greg Toler, Josh Gordy, or Darius Butler, each player had a handful of signature moments in this game.
Starting cornerback Greg Toler was primarily responsible for shadowing Gordon for much of the afternoon. While the Colts normally just have Toler play on the left side of the field, they made it a point to not let Gordon get loose against their other back-up corners, resulting in Toler following around Gordon in their defensive formations. The end result was that Toler was targeted 6 times with 0 receptions, allowing an opposing quarterback rating for Brian Hoyer of just 39.6 in those 6 targets.
His counterparts, namely Darius Butler and Josh Gordy, also played exceptionally well. While Hoyer certainly helped their cause with erratic throws and a handful of overthrown footballs, like Toler, Butler and Gordy certainly did their part. Butler was targeted 5 times and allowed 3 receptions for 35 yards; however, most impressive were his two defensive plays in coverage in a series around the 9 minute mark in the 4th quarter that forced the Browns to settle for a field goal with 8:34 left.
In similar fashion, Gordy was targeted 4 times and only allowed 1 reception for 27 yards. Filling in for Davis as the starter, Gordy held Hoyer to a dismal opposing quarterback rating of 15.6 when targeted. His biggest play of the day came when he intercepted Hoyer in the closing seconds of the game, effectively preserving the Colts’ victory.
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) is tackled by Indianapolis Colts strong safety Mike Adams (29) and Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Bjoern Werner (92) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Adams: Adams has quite frankly been a saving grace for the Colts at safety all season. Despite the injuries and suspensions, Adams has been consistently reliable in the back of the Colts’ secondary. The 11-year veteran has seen it all, and on Sunday, he had the opportunity to show his former team (07-11) that he can still play this game at a high level. He finished with 4 tackles (3 solo), but fans will most remember his finger tip snag of an interception in the Colts’ end zone with 5:08 left in the 1st quarter that prevented a Browns’ score. Adams currently has the most turnovers in the NFL with 7 turnovers on the season.
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) fumbles while being sacked by Cleveland Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant (92) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Cleveland Browns inside linebacker Craig Robertson (not pictured) recovered the fumble for a touchdown. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Turnovers: It’s hard to win when a team consistently turns the ball over, and the Colts have been doing just that in recent games. It’s specifically the 1st quarter turnovers that are the most alarming. Including this Sunday, the Colts have 5 first quarter turnovers in their past 3 games. Once again, QB Andrew Luck was stripped as he began to throw, resulting in a Browns’ linebacker Craig Robertson fumble recovery for a touchdown with 0:40 to go in the 1st quarter.
The allowed points off turnovers didn’t stop there; however, as Luck was picked off by the Browns’ cornerback Justin Gilbert with 10:21 left in the 3rd quarter, who took the ball all the way to the house and put the Browns up 21-7. The offense gave the Browns 14 points directly off turnovers on Sunday, with both a fumble and interception for a touchdown, and that amount doesn’t include a Luck 4th quarter interception that ultimately led to a Billy Cundiff field goal with 8:39 remaining.
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The Browns scored 17 points off turnovers when it was all said and done. It’s worth noting that T.Y. Hilton also fumbled with 14:22 left in the 3rd quarter on the Colts’ opening 2nd half drive.
The Colts had 4 total turnovers on the afternoon, and it’s hard to consistently win football games with such a high amount, particularly if they continue to dig themselves a hole in the 1st quarter of games. Eventually, that trend will end up biting them, and they won’t be as fortunate in coming up with a successful come from behind victory.
Dec 7, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert (21) scores a touchdown on an interception return during the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Colts beat the Browns 25-24. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports