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Sunday, December 1, 2013
Colts close in on division title despite flaws

By Mike Wells

Donald Brown
Donald Brown's touchdown late in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Change was necessary.

It wasn't an easy task to pull off because the cupboard had limited options. But the Indianapolis Colts had to do something because things simply weren't working.

You wouldn't have known that the Colts went into Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans with a two-game lead in the AFC South by the way they had play in the four games prior.

That's what prompted the moves to be made.

All is not fixed, but when the clock struck all zeroes at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts walked off the field 22-14 winners and on the brink of winning their first division title since 2010.

"That was a backyard street brawl man," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "You got called out in your neighborhood by the biggest kid and you have to fight. And that's what it was. Both of us are a really fighting for the division...We knew it was going to be a tough division game and definitely get the bad taste out of our mouths. We never want to have one loss turn into two."

The Colts (8-4) have been ravished with injuries, including to veteran Reggie Wayne, and their play at times has left some wondering how they've managed to win eight games this season.

Here they stand with a three-game lead in the division with only four to play.  The Colts can wrap things up with a victory at Cincinnati or if the Titans lose at Denver next weekend.

"We're not exhaling," coach Chuck Pagano said. "The division is not sewn up. We're going to do everything within our power to keep trending in the right direction."

Out went cornerback Cassius Vaughn. Out went guard Mike McGlynn. And out went running back Trent Richardson, further proving that the trade with Cleveland earlier this season has been a bust.

Enter cornerback Darius Butler, guard Jeff Linkenbach and running back Donald Brown.

Vaughn responded to his demotion by getting two of Indianapolis' three interceptions. Brown was held to eight yards on eight attempts until he had six carries for 46 yards and a touchdown on the Colts' final offensive series.

"We're always trying to just make decisions based on what's best for the team and what gives us the best chance to win," Pagano said. "We made a decision to give a couple guys an opportunity and move forward."

But this is only one game.

The Colts know that, too. That's why they didn't strut around the locker room after the game like all was well again.

The flaws are still there and they'd be even more glaring if future Hall-of-Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri didn't make five field goals -- four coming from at least 45 yards -- and the defense didn't force four turnovers.

The Colts will have a difficult time winning a playoff game if they continue to play like this.

"We know we can't survive our mistakes forever," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I know it sounds a bit like a broken record, but sometimes you just got to gut a win out, no matter how ugly it is. ... We still got a lot of mistakes to clean up."

Speaking of broken records, where have you heard this before? It's a miracle that Luck is able to continue to shake off all the hits he takes during the game.

Inserting Linkenbach into the starting lineup didn't improve an offensive line that needs to be upgraded in the offseason for the second straight year. Luck was sacked five times, including four in the second quarter.

The Colts did manage to score 12 points in the first half, but they haven't scored a touchdown in the first 30 minutes of a game since tight end Coby Fleener caught an 8-yard pass from Luck in the second quarter against Denver on Oct. 20 and Indianapolis was still considered a threat in the AFC.

"We know going down the stretch here that you've got to score touchdowns and try to put people away," Pagano said. "You let people hang around, you're just asking for trouble. Great win, but we still got obviously a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but really proud of the guys, proud of the coaches, proud of the players."

And proud to be closing in on a division title.