Wildcard Round: Horseshoe Heroes


With the Wildcard round of the playoffs now in the books, it’s time to acknowledge the “Horseshoe Heroes” against the Cincinnati Bengals. These are players that went above and beyond their positional requirements and delivered an exceptional performance, in a rather demonstrative 26-10 playoff victory:

Andrew Luck: It wasn’t the greatest statistical line that we’ve seen from Luck; however, the Colts star young quarterback was at his best on Sunday. Even with his receivers suffering from a case of “the drops”, Luck was once again brilliant. He finished to the tune of 31 for 44 (70.5%) for 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 104.0.

None of his plays were more impressive though, then when in the 3rd quarter with 7:57 left on 2nd and 10, Luck evaded a Cincinnati Bengals defender and somehow off-balance managed to throw a perfect strike to wideout Donte Moncrief in the right corner of the end zone to put the Colts up 20-10. It was one of those plays with Luck, where all you can do is shake your head and say, “Wow”.

Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Dan Herron (36) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Dan “Boom” Herron: The fumbles simply have to stop, but Herron was terrific otherwise. He had 12 carries for 56 rushing yards (4.7 ypc) including the Colts only first half touchdown. Herron scored from 2 yards out on an inside handoff on the team’s opening drive with 11:05 left in the first quarter.

However, Herron actually did most of his damage through the air. Instead of simply handing him the football, Herron was Luck’s safety valve for much of the day on dump-off receptions, as he finished with 10 receptions for 85 receiving yards.

Jerrell FreemanIt was perhaps Freeman’s best game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, as it seemed like he was making plays anywhere and everywhere. He finished with 15 tackles (7 solo), 1.5 sacks, and 1 QB Hit. Whether it was stopping Jeremy Hill one-on-one in his tracks or tightly defending the Bengals’ tight ends in coverage, Freeman had an all-around dominant defensive performance.

The advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus support what fans saw on the field, as Freeman received a +4.6 overall grade in Sunday’s win, including a +1.1 grade in pass coverage.

Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) celebrates after kicking a field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Adam VinatieriThe 42-year old ageless wonder added to what has already been a great season, by going 4-4 including a 53-yard long kick. Vinatieri is now 34 for 35 on the season in field goal kicks. There’s no other kicker I’d want in the postseason to be honest, although Justin Tucker for the Baltimore Ravens is a close 2nd after his stellar Wildcard performance as well. Vinatieri is to what Mariano Rivera was to the New York Yankees, a postseason legend.

Pat McAfee: McAfee won’t get as much recognition as his kicking counterpart this week, but McAfee was great in his own right. He finished with 4 punts for an average of 51.5 yards per punt, but his most notable “boom” was a punt that went for 68 yards. That’s how you win the field position game. 

Zurlon TiptonYes, stealing the football from the Colts’ all-time great special teams returnman, Josh Cribbs, was a flub. However, with Trent Richardson on the bench because of either illness or ineffectiveness, it was actually Tipton that got the majority of the carries down the stretch in relief of Herron. Once Boom coughed up his second football on the turf, the Colts used Tipton to close out the game and eat clock.

While he doesn’t have tremendous burst, Tipton is a no-nonsense runner, who hits the right hole and runs hard. He protected the ball and rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries (3.6 ypc), doing most of his work late in the 4th quarter to preserve the victory.

Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) cannot catch a pass while defended by Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) in the first quarter in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Receiver Drops: While Luck was throwing strikes in the 1st half, his wide receivers weren’t doing him any favors. T.Y. Hilton dropped a handful of passes on the afternoon and other receivers like Coby Fleener had a few as well. To beat a team like the Broncos, the Colts have to be nearly perfect and can’t afford missed opportunities like they saw on Sunday.

Ball Security:  For as much burst and explosion as Herron flashes, his fumbles are incredibly frustrating. While they didn’t cost the Colts yesterday, they could eventually going forward in the playoffs, especially against an AFC heavyweight like the Denver Broncos next week. Herron fumbled the ball twice yesterday and was fortunate that only one was actually lost as a turnover.

It’s a shame because Herron is clearly the Colts most effective runner; however, if he can’t protect the football, he’s a liability out there. If it continues, the Colts will likely opt to go with the safer Zurlon Tipton, purely for ball security purposes.

Penalties: Again, to beat a dead horse, great teams can’t afford to make stupid mistakes. If the Colts want to beat a great team like the Denver Broncos, the stupid mistakes have to stop. Off the top of my head, Dwayne Allen had two false starts in the first half, which shouldn’t happen on offense and while at home.

Additionally, Colts rookie inside linebacker Andrew Jackson has to be smarter than this, as he gave the Bengals an easy 15 extra yards for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by grapping a Cincinnati player’s facemask after a special teams play: