Week 16: Horseshoe Heroes


In what was a blowout loss that the Indianapolis Colts suffered on Sunday, it’s time to acknowledge the “Horseshoe Heroes” of Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys. While few in number, these are players that went above and beyond their positional requirements and delivered an exceptional performance, albeit in a 7-42 defeat:

Pat McAfee: When a team’s punter is one of their best performers, it’s normally a pretty strong indicator of how the afternoon went. McAfee punted both early and often, as he had 5 punts for 232 yards (46.4 avg yards per punt), including a 61-yard long bomb of a punt.

Most impressive; however, was his fake punt “pass” on 4th and 11 with 4:36 left to play in the 1st quarter. While a wide open Dewey McDonald inexplicably dropped what was otherwise a perfect McAfee throw, it was another specific instance where the Colts’ punter got to flash his all-around athletic ability. Reminding everyone that punters can be athletes too:

Matt Hasselbeck: The Colts 16-year veteran back-up quarterback was able to get some burn late in the game on Sunday. When starting quarterback Andrew Luck was pulled late in the 3rd quarter to prevent injury in a blowout, Hasselbeck made the most of his opportunity. He was noticeably sharp, as he was 15 for 21 for 126 passing yards and a touchdown in garbage time.

His touchdown pass to back-up running back Zurlon Tipton with 5:24 left in the 4th quarter was the Colts’ lone score of the game. The 39 year old Hasselbeck remains one of the best back-up quarterbacks in the game.

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks (14) runs with the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Hakeem Nicks: With T.Y. Hilton out of the lineup, Nicks became Luck’s go-to wide receiver for much of the afternoon. He was targeted 11 times, the most of any Colts’ receiver and finished with 9 receptions for 72 receiving yards. Both the receptions and receiving yards were season highs for Hakeem Nicks in 2014. It wasn’t an “all-world” performance by any means, but Nicks has continued to play a bit better in the last couple of weeks.

Zurlon Tipton: The one carry for -3 rushing yards was hardly noteworthy by the Colts’ undrafted rookie running back. However, it was nice to see Tipton get his 1st career touchdown in the NFL on a 1-yard pass reception late in the 4th quarter. The 6’0″, 231 pound Tipton provided the only Colts’ score of the game.

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) carries the ball as Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey (92) and defensive tackle Nick Hayden (96) defend in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: The Colts are clearly banged up along their offensive line, but there’s no real excuse for a combined 10 carries for 1 rushing yard on the afternoon in run blocking. That’s a franchise low for the Indianapolis Colts franchise in more ways than one.

Starting Lance Louis and Xavier Nixon on the right side of the Colts’ offensive line proved to be disastrous as neither was effective at all. It’s true that both are back-ups, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be capable back-ups.

Starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus has struggled all season, possibly because of nagging injuries, but he was sorely missed on Sunday. In his absence, his replacement at right tackle in Xavier Nixon had a -8.8 grade overall according to ProFootballFocus. That was by far the worst of any Colts’ offensive lineman.

A team can afford to have an average to below average offensive lineman in there among their front 5, but for the Colts, there’s now more below average offensive lineman than seemingly good ones. Outside of Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort on the left side, this offensive line has become a bit of a trainwreck for the Colts in recent weeks.

Andrew Luck: To be fair, he didn’t get much help from his offensive line, running game, or lack thereof. Still, Luck wasn’t overly sharp yesterday before being pulled late in the 3rd quarter for injury precaution. He was 15 for 22 for 109 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. As good as we’ve seen Luck often be this season, he just didn’t look like quite like the same guy on Sunday.

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) celebrates with wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Defense: Against another Pro Bowl caliber starting quarterback and potent offense, the Indianapolis Colts defense once again struggled. They allowed 4 touchdowns to the Dallas Cowboys in their 1st 4 possessions, as it was 28-0 already with 6:38 left in the 2nd quarter. The Cowboys didn’t have their 1st punt of the afternoon until 1:54 left in the 2nd quarter.

The defense simply hasn’t fared very well against the NFL’s better starting quarterbacks, and Sunday was no exception. Tony Romo was 18 for 20 for 218 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, sporting a quarterback rating of 151.7.

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive back Dewey McDonald (31) reacts after dropping a pass in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dewey McDonald: As mentioned, Dewey’s drop was a bad one. While the Colts were already in trouble, McDonald’s botched special teams catch late in the 1st quarter on a Pat McAfee “fake punt-throw” may have been the team’s last hope of making something out of this dreadful showing.

It’s a shame too, because McDonald has quietly been a really impressive gunner for the Colts special teams unit this season. I’m sure the undrafted rookie safety would like to have that one back.