Sunday, December 22, 2013
Colts deliver a much-needed message
By Mike Wells
Chuck Pagano's Colts had an all-around performance that says they could make a deep playoff run.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The record indicates they're a playoff team. They're also a team with the types of cracks in it that make it vulnerable.
The Indianapolis Colts beat up on teams that will be sitting on a Caribbean beach sipping fruity umbrella drinks at this time in less than two weeks. But their résumé had a void in it that had been sitting there for more than two months.
The Colts hadn’t defeated a team with a winning record since knocking off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in late October. The gap -- seven weeks to be exact -- left plenty of deserving questions on whether the Colts could be more than a one-and-done team in the playoffs.
The Colts knew it, too, despite not wanting to publicly acknowledge it. They ended up letting their actions speak for them when they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7 in a possible playoff preview.
And what made the win even better is that the Colts did it on the road, in the frigid Kansas City air and while dealing with some of the loudest fans in the NFL at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Coming to a place like this ... it’s hard to win at Arrowhead ... tough team, playoff team, it’s a great team,” Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “To come get a victory on the road, get that confidence, showing ourselves and the rest of the world that we can go on the road because we’re probably going to have to go on the road in the playoffs [at some point].”
Chalk Kansas City up alongside San Francisco, Seattle and Denver as playoff teams that the Colts have beaten this season.
But what happened on Sunday was something that hadn’t since Indianapolis beat the 49ers in Week 3. The Colts put on an all-around performance, the type that says they won't be an easy out in the playoffs.
Coach Chuck Pagano could have passed out game balls to almost every player in the locker room because almost all of them did something to contribute on offense, defense and special teams at some point.
The offensive line -- the seventh different starting group of the season -- gave up only one sack and helped the Colts rush for 135 yards. The defense made a Chiefs team that averaged 44 points in the four games prior look ordinary. Even receiver-turned-special-teams player Darrius Heyward-Bey had a presence.
“This team in a hostile environment with the elements as they were, it speaks to the character of our football team, of our players,” Pagano said. “They stick to the process and stay focused on that process. That means not getting ahead of ourselves, staying humble, staying grounded.”
The thought of laying back and not showing their complete hand was not on Pagano's mind, despite the possibility of these two teams facing each other again at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in two weeks. The Colts aren't a good enough team that can coast and suddenly think they can turn it on.
It was all about sending a message for Indianapolis. It started with containing Chiefs do-everything running back Jamaal Charles. The Colts already had horrible flashbacks of Charles rushing for 226 yards against them last season. Then Charles had five touchdowns and 195 receiving yards against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 15.
A repeat performance seemed like a possibility when Charles ran for 37 yards on the Chiefs’ opening drive.
But the Colts turned into the opportunistic defense that created turnovers against Tennessee and Houston in recent weeks.
Charles, public enemy No. 1, according to Pagano, gained only 69 more yards on the ground the rest of the game.
The Colts' defense harassed Alex Smith all day, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice.
“We know Jamaal is going to get his touches, we know he’s going to make his plays,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “We had to settle down, stay in our gaps and control the line of scrimmage. This game was going to be won in the trenches.”
With Charles tamed, the Colts were able to zero in on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. They sacked him four times and intercepted him twice.
The best part about the four sacks?
Not one came from league-leader Robert Mathis. That’s substantial considering that the Colts went into Sunday with Mathis having 13 more sacks than the next closest player on the roster.
Mathis’ presence was felt, though. He hit Smith’s arm on a pass attempt Freeman intercepted.
In the past two games, the Colts have eight sacks, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and they’ve given up only 10 points.
“It’s a long season and you can harp on one game, harp on another game, but like I said, we’ve always believed in this room what type of talent we have, what type of football we can play and the biggest thing for us, playing that style of football at the right time,” Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. “Last week we had a good performance, this week we had another good performance in a playoff atmosphere.”