Colts 9 – Ravens 24
Sunday’s AFC Wild Card playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens abounded with compelling story lines. After missing 12 weeks to receive treatment for leukemia, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was facing his former team in just his second game back on the sidelines. The Colts were also facing their own former coach, Jim Caldwell, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens. Further affecting player emotions, Ravens linebacker and future Hall of Fame-r Ray Lewis, who announced his pending retirement earlier this week, returned from a triceps injury to contest his final home game, while on the Colts’ side, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness (He is said to be doing ‘fine’). Lastly, few Baltimore fans can forget that the Colts were once their home team before leaving in the middle of the night to relocate in Indianapolis.
The Colts played with full hearts, but in the end, they could not withstand the force of the playoff hungry Ravens. However, the defeat cannot hide the fact that the Colts have had a phenomenal season. Few thought the team would win more than 5 games, let alone make the playoffs and win 11. Several players deserve recognition for their strong play on Sunday afternoon.
Although Andrew Luck had a bad pick and did not throw a single touchdown pass, he did complete more than 50% of his passes for the first time in several weeks. He also threw for 288 yards. But as Tom James of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star will say, “Too many people look purely at stats and don’t watch how a player impacts a game.” Luck does far more for the Colts than his numbers – even as staggeringly impressive as they are for a rookie – suggest. What hurt Luck in Baltimore were a very weak offensive line and 10 inexcusable drops by receivers. The O-Line took two big hits early when Jeff Linkenbach and Winston Justice were injured and replaced by Seth Olsen and Bradley Sowell, respectively. The two blockers’ inexperience had Luck under pressure all afternoon. Too add, Donnie Avery could not seem to get a grip on the ball, and even the usually reliable T.Y. Hilton struggled bringing the ball in. Thus, no one in blue and white reached the end zone.
However, Reggie Wayne and Vick Ballard provided sparks to the offense. Wayne was on fire, catching 9 passes for 114 yards, and in the process he moved to second all time, behind only the great Jerry Rice, on the postseason receptions list. The rookie Ballard, meanwhile, rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries, which, by the way, was more than the Ravens’ best back Ray Rice could do.
The defense started out strong, playing some impressive red zone defense in a scoreless first quarter, but as the game progressed, the unit gradually gave way. Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler (Vaughn’s replacement when he was benched) seemed to be the thorns in the Colts’ side. The corners struggled to cover Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, who racked up 145 yards and a touchdown on just 5 receptions.
However, the Colts did an admirable job of containing Ray Rice. Rice was held to just 70 yards on the ground, and the Colts forced him to fumble twice, his first fumbles of the entire season. Cory Redding and Joe Jefeged were each credited with forced fumbles, which were recovered by Lawrence Guy and Pat Angerer, repsectively.
Adam Vinatieri added to his own postseason records on Sunday. He was responsible for all 9 of the Colts’ points, kicking field goals of 47, 52, and 26 yards, the 52-yarder being the longest of his playoff career. Vinatieri did miss a 40-yard attempt in the fourth quarter, but nobody is perfect, even a future Hall of Fame-r. Vinatieri is a perfect 12 for 12 when kicking further than 40 yards in the postseason as a Colt. He has also only missed 2 postseason field goals of any distance while playing for Indianapolis. Pat McAfee also played well, but he could have benefitted from some better punt protection.
Had the Colts won, they would have traveled to Denver next week to face their former beloved quarterback Peyton Manning and his new family in Denver. What a matchup that would be. Although fans won’t get it now, they won’t have to wait too long to see it happen. The Broncos are scheduled to play the Colts in Indianapolis – Peyton’s homecoming – next season.
The Colts’ season is over, but there is plenty to reflect on in the offseason. Remember, only 17 of the 53 men on the Colts’ current active roster were members of the team last year. I look forward to seeing what another offseason and set of OTAs do for the team’s chemistry. I also look forward to seeing how the rookies improve next season after getting so much playing time and experience in their first year. These Colts are really only just getting started.
Horseshoe Hero is done for the season, but you can bet I will still be sharing any offseason news with you right here on Naptown’s Finest.
Stay CHUCKSTRONG – and COLTSTRONG – Colts fans!