Don't look now, but the upstart Indianapolis Colts have jumped to the front
of class when it comes to securing one of the two available wild-card berths
in the upcoming AFC playoffs.
Coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-14 loss at Cleveland, the Colts'
20-13 home-field National Football League win Sunday over Buffalo gives the
team a 7-4 record heading into next week's road game with Detroit.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had eight turnovers without its two top quarterbacks
in losing to the Browns. The Steelers are now tied with surging Cincinnati
for the second wild-card spot, both with 6-5 records.
While interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continues to stress
taking each game as it comes, coming away with a win over Buffalo was huge.
"You know, in the beginning when this thing was put together, [coach] Chuck
[Pagano] built everything on team. I think that was a team victory right
there," Arians said Sunday. "I couldn't be prouder of the football team
because Chuck was [at the game] and the goal was to make him smile when he
left. And I'm sure he¹s up there [in team owner Jim Irsay's stadium suite]
Indianapolis had to battle through some rough patches en route to the win
over the Bills. With the Colts' offense slow to get untracked, it was left
up to the defense and – yes – the special teams units to come up with some
They certainly didn't disappoint. Rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton's 75-yard
punt return for a touchdown midway through the first quarter had put
Indianapolis out in front early, giving the Colts a lead that they would
Two Adam Vinatieri field goals (from 25 and 19 yards out), along with an
8-yard pass from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to Hilton late in the third
quarter, provided all the scoring Indianapolis would need. But the Bills,
who had come into the game needing a win in order to boost their post-season
hopes, certainly made things interesting.
Their defense sacked Luck four times, three by Pro Bowl end Mario Williams
and one by tackle Marcell Dareus, and intercepted him once (backup
cornerback Justin Rogers). Luck also looked out of rhythm all afternoon,
completing 20 of 37 passes for 240 yards and a TD. He misfired to wide-open
receivers early in the game and then struggled at times to get the ball
downfield due to the constant pass rush.
Still, the Colts made plays when necessary in other areas. Hilton's punt
return got Indianapolis off to a good start. The defense, led by inside
linebacker Jerrell Freeman, bent often but limited Buffalo to just one
touchdown and a pair of field goals by Rian Lindell (33 and 31 yards).
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's 1-yard toss to backup tight end Lee Smith
with 11:30 remaining in the game had narrowed the margin to 20-13. When it
looked like the Bills were on their way to tie the game in the fourth
quarter, safety Tom Zbikowski intercepted Fitzpatrick and returned it 20
yards before fumbling the ball back to Buffalo.
Still the Indianapolis defense made plays. With 4:31 left, the Colts' pass
rush forced Fitzpatrick out of the pocket on first down and a pickup of six
yards. Freeman, who ended the game with 16 total tackles, dropped Bills
running back C.J. Spiller for a 4-yard loss on second down.
A third-down pass from Fitzpatrick to Spiller fell incomplete. Buffalo
punter Shawn Powell's booted the ball away and pinned Indianapolis back at
its own 5-yard line. The Bills, though, never saw the ball again.
The Colts controlled the final 3:22 of the game, picking up a big first down
with an 11-yard run on second down. A 14-yard pass from Luck to wide
receiver Reggie Wayne, also coming on second down, gave Indianapolis another
first down and another chance to control the clock.
And, finally on third-and-10 with 1:48 left in the game, Luck's pass to
Wayne was incomplete but the Bills were called for pass interference on the
play. Game over.
Wayne ended the game with eight catches for 102 yards, which was impressive
enough. But he also used his veteran skills as a receiver to draw a pair of
crucial pass interference penalties, enabling the Colts to keep drives
"All phases, our special teams, showed up huge. I thought they won the game
for us. Not only with the return for the touchdown and the field position
they created but how well they covered. Those are two great returners
[Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin and Brad Smith]. We asked [punter] Pat [McAfee]
to have his best game ever as a kicker and he really contributed. He kicked
the ball great," Arians said afterward.
"They didn¹t give them anything on defense, hung in there when they had to.
Offensively, we were able to put a drive together and finish one there at
the end of the third quarter, which I thought was a solid drive. At the end
of the game, to be able to ice it out running and throwing – it's not a time
to get conservative, it¹s a time to make first downs. Our guys did a good
job of doing that."
Buffalo had some success offensively. Spiller rushed 14 times for 107 yards,
including a long run of 41 yards. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught six
passes for 106 yards, with a long play of 63 yards. But after both of those
plays, the Colts defense didn¹t allow a touchdown. And as the game turned
out, not giving up a TD in either or both situations loomed large later.
"You knew C.J. [Spiller] was going to break one or two; just keep him out of
the end zone and don't let him score. Our guys hustled to the end. We chased
some guys down on long plays and then defended every blade of grass that was
left and that¹s the way you play defense," Arians said.
Fitzpatrick completed 17 of 33 passes for 180 yards and a TD. He was also
sacked twice, one each by Freeman and outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
The Colts plan to celebrate the win over Buffalo for a short time and then
begin preparations for a tough matchup with Detroit.
"It's just one game at a time. Once you start doing that, we're going to add
them up and see where we stand tomorrow. I know we have seven wins and not
too many teams do," Arians voiced.
"We've got a big, big challenge in Detroit against a high-powered offense
and another great front four. We¹ll see how our guys came out [of Sunday's
game] and see who is available Wednesday and go back to work."