In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts posted an identical record–11 wins, 5 losses–as they did in 2012, but that was about the only similarity between this year’s group and last year’s.
In short, these Colts were a more complete, better all-around team.
The 2013 Colts gave off a vibe that said they were a true contender, not just a team riding the emotions of head Coach Chuck Pagano’s courageous battle against leukemia, as was partially the case with the 2012 team. The 2013 Colts had a point differential of plus-55, compared to the minus-30 differential achieved by the 2012 team. The 2013 Colts turned the ball over only 14 times, good for best–by a large margin–in the NFL; the 2012 Colts turned the ball over 27 times, good for tenth-worst in the NFL. And, perhaps most importantly, the 2013 Colts faced a much tougher schedule than did the 2012 Colts.
This season’s schedule featured the NFC West (otherwise known as the NFL’s best division), the AFC West (home to three playoff teams), and 2012 second-place finishers from the AFC East (the Miami Dolphins) and the AFC North (the Cincinnati Bengals). In total, the Colts’ 2013 schedule consisted of six games against playoff teams and two more against teams (Arizona and Miami) that weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until the tail-end of Week 17.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 2012 Colts played the mediocre NFC North, the lowly AFC East, and a fourth-place schedule. Of their 11 wins, only three came against playoff teams, and those teams–the Vikings, Packers, and Texans–had a combined playoff record of 1-3.
But with this season’s much more challenging schedule came several marquee matchups against the league’s best teams, and that’s where the Colts impressed me the most in 2013: they had a number of wins against some the NFL’s toughest competition, including the two teams that will meet next Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in Super Bowl XLVIII.
So, with Indianapolis’s 2013 season now complete, it seems like an appropriate time to recap the year that was, and specifically to recap those impressive victories that I just alluded to. Without any further ado, here are–in order–what I believe to be the Colts’ five best wins from this past season:
5. Week 16: Indianapolis Colts 23, Kansas City Chiefs 7
The Colts won six of their first eight games to begin the 2013 campaign, but a 3-3 stretch from Week 10 through Week 15 had many second-guessing the team’s legitimacy as a playoff threat. Making matters worse, Indianapolis’s three wins in that span were over Houston and Tennessee (twice), two teams that finished with records of 2-14 and 7-9, respectively. It had been two months since the Colts had beaten a team with a winning record, and they desperately needed to make a statement.
And, right on cue, that’s exactly what Chuck Pagano’s group did when they traveled to Arrowhead Stadium–the supposed hardest place to play in the AFC–for their December 22 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
After allowing an opening-drive 31-yard touchdown run to Jamaal Charles, Indianapolis scored the game’s final 23 points and earned a 23-7 win. The Colts forced four turnovers and committed none, running back Donald Brown accounted for 110 total yards from scrimmage and two scores, and the defense held Alex Smith to a QBR of only 11.1.
In just 60 minutes of NFL action, the Colts were able to quiet their doubters, while simultaneously proving that their record was no fluke and that maybe–just maybe–they were about to start hitting another peak en route to a deep playoff run.
4. Week 5: Indianapolis Colts 34, Seattle Seahawks 28
Unlike each of the games that I have ranked as the Colts’ best three performances, the Week 5 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks wasn’t broadcasted to a national audience, so it didn’t create nearly as much buzz as some of Indy’s other victories. But, with that being said, I believe with all of my heart that it was the Colts’ most impressive win of the entire season.
All year long, the Seahawks have been one of the league’s most dominating teams, and–somewhat unlike their Super Bowl foe–Seattle has done it against some the NFL’s toughest competition.
Need a refresher? I have you covered:
Week 2: On Sunday Night Football, the now-NFC Champions embarrassed the then-defending NFC Champions–the San Francisco 49ers–by forcing Jim Harbaugh’s team into five turnovers and holding them to just 207 yards of offense. 29-3, Seattle.
Week 7: The Seahawks traveled to Phoenix to take on another division rival, the Arizona Cardinals, who finished with a 6-2 home record and the NFL’s sixth-best defense. In the loss, the Cardinals managed just 234 yards of offense and only 1.7 yards per rush. 34-22, Seattle.
Week 13: The Seahawks again found themselves on a national stage, this time Monday Night Football. Their visitors–the New Orleans Saints–would finish the regular season with the league’s fourth-best offense and the second-best passing attack, but they hardly looked formidable for those 60 minutes at Qwest Field on December 2. Drew Brees fielded a QBR of just 22.7 and passed for fewer than 150 yards for the first time since Week 17 of the 2006 season. 34-7, Seattle.
From Week 1 through Week 13, the Seahawks outscored their opponents by an average of just under 13 points per game. Also during that stretch, they won 11 games and lost only once. That one loss came against…you guessed it, the Indianapolis Colts.
In Week 5, the Colts welcomed Pete Carroll and company to Lucas Oil Stadium. Andrew Luck threw for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions, all of which added up to a QBR of 80.4.
To put that into some perspective, Peyton Manning–who threw for 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions this season–had a QBR of 82.9 in 2013. That’s pretty darn close to Luck’s 80.4 QBR in Week 5.
And, most importantly, Luck led the Colts on a game-winning, 84-yard touchdown drive to seal the deal, as his team won by a final score of 34-28, putting to bed any doubts about whether they were among the league’s elite.
3. Week 3: Indianapolis Colts 27, San Francisco 49ers 7
I’ll admit it: leading into the Week 3 contest at Candlestick Park with the San Francisco 49ers, I was worried about my beloved Colts.
Just two weeks into the regular season, the Colts were 1-1 and very easily could have been 0-2.
In Week 1, Indy needed Andrew Luck to put together his eighth game-winning drive in his 17th career regular season start just to beat Terrelle Pryor and the Oakland Raiders, who finished the season tied for second-worst overall in the AFC. And, in Week 2, the Colts allowed Ryan Tannehill–whom, sorry, I’m just not that impressed with yet–to throw for 319 yards as his Miami Dolphins earned a 24-20 victory.
So, yes, I was scared for the Colts as they traveled to northern California to take on a 49ers team that was surely angry and ready to avenge its 26-point loss in Seattle from the week prior.
What happened? The Colts didn’t just pull off the upset, they manhandled the 49ers. I would argue that it was Indy’s best start-to-finish win of the entire year.
Andrew Luck’s numbers were modest–159 yards passing, one rushing touchdown, zero interceptions–but he made the throws he had to make and the plays he had to make, finishing the game with a 79.5 QBR.
Against the fourth-best rush defense in the NFL, the Colts rushed for 184 yards, three touchdowns, and 4.6 yards per carry.
Indianapolis also forced two turnovers–including one interception of Colin Kaepernick–and committed none.
Most astonishingly, the Colts outscored the 49ers 17-0 in the second half, not once allowing San Fran to move the ball past their 45-yard line at any point during the final two quarters.
The result: 27-7, Indianapolis.
2. Week 7: Indianapolis Colts 39, Denver Broncos 33
If it weren’t for an inconceivable comeback victory in the playoffs that I will get to shortly, the entirety of the Colts’ Week 7 meeting with the Denver Broncos would have lasted as the most vivid memory of the 2013 season, and it would have been the most powerful memory of any Colts’ game since Tracy Porter’s pick-six in Super Bowl XLIV that, to this day, I still have nightmares about.
Yes, that’s just how special it was to welcome Peyton Manning–whom I believe to already be the greatest signal-caller of all time–back to Lucas Oil Stadium–the house that he built–and back to Indianapolis. During his tenure as a Colt, Peyton led his teams to seven straight 12-win seasons from 2003 through 2009, two Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl victory. For season after season after season, he was consistently the NFL’s most prolific passer.
So, I speak for all Colts fans when I say that it was rather difficult to watch him play in Indianapolis as a visitor on that mid-October night. I fought back-and-forth with my emotions all night, rooting for the Colts to win but also wishing the best for Peyton. When Robert Mathis strip-sacked Manning for a safety in the second quarter, I simultaneously cheered and cringed.
Peyton’s Broncos outgained the Colts–429 total yards to 334 total yards–but Indy’s defense was able to force three turnovers, while the offense committed only one. Andrew Luck passed for 158 fewer yards than Peyton, but he threw the same number of touchdowns (three) and one fewer interception (zero to Peyton’s one), he finished with a better QBR (65.4 to Peyton’s 57.9), and he even scored a rushing touchdown.
I didn’t love watching Peyton struggle, but he was severely outplayed by Luck. After a week–and really two years–of answering question after question after question about trying to replace Manning, Luck made the perfect statement with his performance, showing the world that he isn’t Peyton Manning, he’s Andrew Luck.
And despite being outscored by 10 in the fourth quarter, the Colts hung on and won, 39-33, handing the Broncos their first loss of the season.
You’ll never hear me say that Week 7 was the most enjoyable win of the season. In fact, it was just the opposite. Watching Peyton walk off the field and into the locker room with sheer disappointment on his face was gut-wrenching. He’s my favorite player of all time in any sport–sorry, Andrew, you still have work to do–and never would I take joy in his failures.
But this list isn’t about levels of enjoyment. This is a list ranking Indy’s’ best wins–in order–from this season, and this win was undoubtedly the team’s second best of 2013. The Colts became the first team to knock off the Broncos–the AFC’s best team led by the league’s best quarterback–and they did it on a national stage. It was–without a doubt–the highlight of Indy’s regular season.
1. Wild Card round: Indianapolis Colts 45, Chiefs 44
10 years from now, we will look back at the 2013 season and recall quite a bit. We’ll remember Peyton Manning’s record-breaking regular season statistics, we’ll remember Richard Sherman’s game-saving pass deflection to send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, and we’ll either remember Peyton winning another ring or him losing a second Super Bowl in three tries. But, I might argue that–of all the great moments from this season–the one that will get relived the most will be the classic Wild Card showdown between the Colts and Chiefs.
By now, you know the story:
Indianapolis faced a seemingly insurmountable 31-10 halftime deficit, and an Andrew Luck interception on the second half’s first play from scrimmage led to yet another Chiefs touchdown.
38-10, Kansas City.
Sorry, but a 28-point hole? The Colts were officially hopeless. Game over.
Unlike me, the Colts didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They didn’t become discouraged. Instead, they believed.
In a span of 24 minutes and 18 seconds–football time, of course–Luck and the Indy offense orchestrated five second half touchdown drives consisting of 80 yards, 41 yards, 80 yards, 90 yards, and 80 yards.
On the fourth drive, Luck made what I believed to be the play of the year in the NFL. After a Donald Brown fumble near the goal line, the Colts’ quarterback–without even the slightest of hesitation–scooped up the ball and leaped into the endzone with a Superman-esque jump.
44-38, Kansas City.
Then, on Indianapolis’s ensuing possession, Luck threw a perfect strike to T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard score, and the comeback was finally complete.
The Chiefs did, however, have more than enough time–four minutes and 21 seconds, to be exact–to move the ball down the field and actually win the game, but Dwayne Bowe was unable to get his feet down in bounds on a fourth-and-11 pass from Smith. From there, Luck kneeled on the ball three consecutive times, and the game was over–for real, this time.
Somehow, the Colts…won? Seriously? That happened?
Maybe I’m still in a prisoner of the moment stage, but I found it to be the greatest comeback in NFL history, even greater than the Buffalo Bills’ 32-point comeback over the Houston Oilers in 1993. Unlike the Bills, the Colts didn’t need an overtime period to finish their comeback. And, unlike the Bills, who were the back-to-back defending AFC Champions at the time, the Colts were playing under all of the pressure in the world. Had Luck lost in the Wild Card round for a second consecutive year, critics would have been quick to create a narrative centered around his inability to advance past the first round, as they did with Peyton for the years leading up to his first playoff victory. The Colts would have been staring down a long, long offseason had they failed to beat the Chiefs.
It has now been almost four weeks since the instant-classic, yet I still haven’t fully convinced myself that the Colts pulled off what I watched them pull off. It was the most incredible, most unlikely second half of football that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime of football fandom, and it was certainly the perfect way to cap off a Colts’ season of winning.