The Herald Bulletin

December 1, 2013

Mike Lopresti: Colts good enough this time

The Herald Bulletin

---- — They zig, they zag. They beat Denver and Seattle and get plastered by scores of 40-11 and 38-8. When they are good, they can be very, very good. And when they're bad, they can be horrid. But they won't budge. Not yet, anyway.

The Indianapolis Colts now own an 8-4 record seemingly put together by grit and gall and paper clips, and will probably win their division after Sunday. And yet, there are still so many things to wonder. Nearly every thought about this team ends with the word "but."

Sunday's 22-14 win over Tennessee was about a 9.5 on the ugly-o-meter.

But . . .

At this stage, nobody is counting style points.

"ll never complain about a win. I don't think you'll ever hear anybody in that locker room complain about a win," Andrew Luck mentioned.

Consider the bottom line. Victory meant the AFC South is now nearly in the bag. Defeat would have had thousands of fingers looking for panic buttons to push, and owner Jim Irsay eager to return to his Twitter account.

But . . .

The stubborn flaws that won't vanish were on display this very day. The offensive line (five Luck sacks), the ground game (nothing till the last drive), the pass rush (mute except for the occasional Robert Mathis appearance), the short-handed receiver situation (after another head-shaking dropped pass, Darrius Heyward-Bey's future as a bomb defuser is really in jeopardy).

They must be fixed soon, if they are to be fixed at all.

"We know we can't survive our mistakes forever. I know it sounds a bit like a broken record," Luck said. Which is a worrisome thing to be uttering after the 12th game of the season.

But . . .

They so often find a way. Watching the Colts a lot of Sundays is a little like watching a squirrel work its way through a maze. Five field goals by Adam Vinatieri, and one Donald Brown-led touchdown drive were about all Indianapolis could offer on offense. A critical game was saved by a 40-year-old kicker and a backup getting a chance to start at running back.

"Sometimes," Luck said, "you've just got to gut a win out."

The defense seized the day and forced four turnovers, a week after being shredded by Arizona.

"We made up our minds that enough was enough," Cory Redding said.

All in all, then, it was a gut-check day. "Theyre a resilient bunch," coach Chuck Pagano said. "Got more resolve than anybody I've ever been around."

But . . .

Everyone knew that already. The Colts' perseverance is a given.

Their offense currently is not. This team has produced two touchdowns in two games. The third down conversion rate Sunday was 3-for-14. Of the 104 yards rushing, 78 came on the last drive, and 24 — nearly a quarter of the day's total — on one Luck scramble.

But . . .

The Colts have atoned for enough sins to have a choke hold on first place. If they win next week in Cincinnati, they would be on a path to the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

"Every team goes through ups and downs," Vinatieri said. "As we always say, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Very seldom do you not have a speed bump or a roadblock. The good teams figure out way to get that behind you and keep moving forward."

Pagano is not shy of tinkering, which is why Brown was in the starting lineup Sunday and Trent Richardson was not. The buzz from the Richardson trade has long since faded, muted by too many one-yard gains.

So it was Brown who led the last clock-devouring scoring drive, when the Colts went marching north in Lucas Oil Stadium, just as their season threatened to go south. "Division hanging in the balance, everything on the line, and the guys manned up," Pagano said.

Not that he wants his team to relax with a three-game lead. "What I told the guys was, we're not going down that road," he said. "We're not exhaling."

But . . .

Lots of customers dressed in blue were exhaling late Sunday afternoon. Another crisis passed. This team of pluck and faults keeps plowing onward. How far, who could guess?