AFC South: 2012 Wild Card Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 24, Colts 9

January, 6, 2013

Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 24-9 wild-card game loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: An improbable season is now over. Under new leadership and with huge roster turnover, the Colts found their way to 11 wins and a playoff berth. The rookie season of quarterback Andrew Luck and a talented first-year class has come to a close. The Ravens advance to a divisional-round game in Denver.

What I didn’t like: The red zone performance by the offense was simply insufficient. The Colts could not find an avenue into the end zone, as the Ravens forced Indianapolis to settle for four field goal attempts. Adam Vinatieri hit the first three. The pass coverage couldn’t contain Anquan Boldin in the second half, and his touchdown catch was spectacular. He simply muscled the ball in even though nickel corner Darius Butler had an arm in position to break it up. They allowed too many big plays overall. Indy’s pass protection allowed far too much pressure and far too many hits on Luck, who also suffered as a result of some drops. Luck couldn’t find his late-game magic in this one, as Cary Williams grabbed a defended pass for a fourth-quarter pick -- Luck’s first interception in his past 150 throws, per CBS.

What I liked: Luck never wavered in the face of constant pressure and delivered a lot of big throws given the circumstances. Rookie running back Vick Ballard continued to make gains in vision and production. Though he failed to corral a fourth-down pass just before the two-minute warning. (Terrell Suggs of the Ravens paused at the Colts' sideline to give Chuck Pagano a big hug right after that.)

Next man up: Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who did such good work as the team’s interim coach for the bulk of the year, was sick and taken to a hospital before the game. Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen called the game in Arians' absence. The Colts offered assurances he was going to be fine.

What’s next: After some time wondering what if, the Colts need to spend the offseason building the roster. Indianapolis needs significant help on the offensive line, on the defensive line and in the secondary. Arians is expected to interview for the open head-coaching jobs in Chicago and Philadelphia. Replacing him would be a tall order for Pagano.

HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 19-13 wild-card game win Saturday over the Cincinnati Bengals at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Texans knocked off the Bengals in the first game of the playoffs for the second consecutive season and advanced to a divisional-round game next weekend at New England. Cincinnati still has not won a playoff game since the 1990 season.

What I liked: Star power got it done for the home team. Running back Arian Foster became the first player in NFL history to top 100 rushing yards in his first three playoff games. In combination, receiver Andre Johnson (four catches for 62 yards) and tight end Owen Daniels (nine for 91) were big in a game in which the run game and defense carried the day. Matt Schaub played better than he had recently, hitting on 29 of 38 passes for 262 yards with a pick-six and no touchdowns. Defensive end J.J. Watt had a sack and a couple of batted passes.

What I didn’t like: Schaub gave the Bengals a touchdown with a bad throw for James Casey that corner Leon Hall picked off and took 21 yards in a tightrope walk down the sideline to the end zone. The Texans had a lot of chances in the red zone but really took only one crack into the end zone, an inaccurate pass that Johnson should have corralled but did not.

Quality: The Bengals aren’t a good third-down offense, and the Texans did a great job making sure that stayed the case. Cincinnati was 0-for-9 on third down.

He’s back: Cornerback Johnathan Joseph has had an inconsistent season during which he has been hampered by a groin and hamstring injury. He played a very good game Saturday, with a key interception on a pass on which A.J. Green stopped running, and with a lot of tight coverage.

What’s next: The Texans return to New England on Jan. 13. They lost a Monday night game there, 42-14, on Dec. 10. It’s not unprecedented for the Patriots to lose at home to a team they’d beaten badly not too long before. It happened with the Jets in 2010. The Patriots crushed New York 45-3 on Dec. 6, 2010, then lost at Gillette Stadium 28-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs.