By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
The last time the Indianapolis Colts faced an offense with this kind of firepower, things did not end well.
The New England Patriots, ranked No. 1 in total offense and No. 4 in passing yards, hung 59 points on the scoreboard and handed the young Colts their most embarrassing loss of the season two weeks ago in Foxborough, Mass.
Today Indianapolis faces a similar challenge in the Detroit Lions — No. 1 in passing yards and No. 2 in total offense — at Ford Field.
“Forget the record (4-7), these guys can play,” Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. “They have some weapons. It’s going to take a collective effort defensively to stop them.”
There are some stark differences between the Lions and the Patriots, beginning with Detroit’s record.
Somehow the Lions’ outstanding offensive talent — which includes the NFL’s leading receiver in Calvin Johnson and a quarterback who threw for more than 5,000 yards last season in Matthew Stafford — has not been able to produce a sum equal to its parts.
For all its offensive fireworks, the team ranks just 14th in the league in scoring.
Detroit has lost three straight games — the last two at home by a total of seven points — and now is clinging to the faintest of playoff hopes in the NFC.
But the Lions have had 10 days to prepare for the Colts (7-4), and they don’t sound like a team ready to simply play out the string. Head coach Jim Schwartz points out last year’s Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, were just 7-7 with two games left in the regular season. And some already had left the team for dead.
“This league has always rewarded people who are resilient and play until the very end,” Schwartz said. “The only game we have this week is the Colts, and I think that’s the only thing we can concentrate on. If we do a good job with that, then we go to the next week.”
Indianapolis has been preaching a similarly tight focus as it attempts to close in on an unlikely AFC playoff berth.
The Colts understand the danger Detroit presents, and not just on the offensive side of the football.
The Lions defensive line — comprised of tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch — is one of the most disruptive in the league.
Suh, in particular, is a matchup nightmare.
He’s drawn headlines for borderline dirty play, including a kick to the groin of Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub — that may or may not have been intentional — during an overtime loss on Thanksgiving.
But the big man from Nebraska has earned nothing but respect in the Indianapolis locker room.
“Suh’s a good player,” right guard Mike McGlynn said. “Besides all the reputation and all that, he plays the game hard. In the league now, all of that stuff gets frowned upon, but he plays the game hard.”
The Colts’ success — both in keeping up with the Lions’ offense and in surviving the onslaught from Suh and the defense — likely will be measured by one familiar theme: turnovers.
The New England loss got out of hand in large part because of two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and a fumble deep in his own territory by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck that led to another score.
Luck has thrown 10 of his 13 interceptions on the road, and he knows protecting the football will be job one today.
“Turnovers kill you,” Luck said. “I know that’s sort of been our Achilles heel on the road, is committing turnovers. We’ll have to stay away from those if we want a chance to win.”
A victory would bring with it another record for the former Stanford star. With eight wins, he’d pass St. Louis’ Sam Bradford for the most by a rookie quarterback taken No. 1 overall since 1970.
Far more importantly, a win would keep this fairy tale season rolling in Indianapolis.
The Colts enter the day with a one-game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the race for the two AFC Wild Card spots.
They’ll get cornerback Vontae Davis back in the starting lineup for the first time in four weeks and are likely to welcome back rookie tight end Coby Fleener as well.
But safety Tom Zbikowski will miss the game with a knee injury — replaced by a rotation of Sergio Brown and Joe Lefeged — and the Colts expect Detroit to be on top of its game.
“This is a very talented football team,” Indianapolis interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “They’ve lost two really close ballgames at home. We’re going to get their best shot. They’re in a do-or-die situation, and so are we. We’ve got to give them our best shot and not leave anything for chance.”