On the day when their head coach went home, so did the Colts. A team that entered the season with a ground-based foundation – run the ball and stop the run – finally found its way. Vick Ballard (84) and Delone Carter (41) combined for 125 yards and quarterback Andrew Luck ran for the team’s only two touchdowns, while the defense limited Cleveland to 55 rushing yards in a methodical but nonetheless rewarding 17-13 victory over the Browns on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The team learned after the game that Coach Chuck Pagano, hospitalized on Sept. 26 with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APML), was released Sunday morning and watched the game from his home, where he will continue receiving treatment.
“I’m thrilled to hear about that,” said Luck. “I’m more thrilled about that than the win.”
The Colts bounced back nicely from a 35-9 road thrashing by the Jets last week and improved to 3-1 at home and 3-3 overall, good for second place in the AFC South, one-half game ahead of Tennessee. The Colts travel to Nashville seeking their first road win of the season next Sunday. The Browns lost their 11th in a row on the road and fell to 1-6, last in the AFC North.
The Colts took control of the game with long touchdown drives on their first two possessions. Luck passed for 67 yards on the first drive, including a 30-yarder to Reggie Wayne on the first play that would prove to be the team’s longest gain of the day, and scrambled in from three yards out for the score. After the Browns answered with a 90-yard touchdown drive (with a flubbed extra point attempt), the Colts drove 76 yards, with Luck converting three third downs along the way and then rolling in from five yards out to make it 14-6 midway through the second quarter.
The Browns opened the second have with a 33-yard scoring pas from Brandon Weeden to Josh Gordon to make it a one-point game, but the Colts drive 61 yards to set up a 38-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. From there it turned into a defensive slugfest that boiled down to two key plays.
Luck lost a fumble when sacked by blitzing defensive back Sheldon Brown, setting up the Browns at the Colts’ 50-yard line with 7:25 to go. On third-and-one from the 41, Weeden found Gordon in stride coasting into the end zone – but the receiver dropped the pass. Browns Coach Pat Shurmur opted to punt on fourth-and-one, a decision that cost his team its last serious threat.
>> “That was a better balanced football team for us today and we have to stay that way. We can’t be one-dimensional and we don’t want to be. It leads to chunks for us where we can run the ball and have the hard play action and Andrew (Luck) will live longer.” – interim coach Bruce Arians
>> “I saw the back I thought I’d see: decisive, hard running, pass protected well. He’s becoming a very solid player for us as all the rookies are now.” – Arians on Ballard
>> “Great news, Coach Pagano celebrated this win at home. He was at the house, released and we’re really excited about that. That’s probably as big as the win today. … I’m sure he’s feeling great right now. Hopefully he didn’t get too dad-gone exhausted coaching from the bedroom.” – Arians
>> “You don’t realize how you miss it until you can’t do it anymore. It was great, I needed it.” – linebacker Pat Angerer on his first game of the season
>> “This is the first game that I’ve run the ball that well. The offensive line did a good job up front of knocking them back and I just ran wherever they put the holes up.” – Ballard
>> “We definitely stepped up. We understood this is a running team. They have the ability to pass the ball. This was a tough team. They can pass and they can run the ball. They have some great running backs that come out of that backfield. We all collectively did a great job.” – linebacker Dwight Freeney
>> “We have a lot of trust in each other and what the coaches are doing, but it’s nice to see a little pound, some first downs, two runs in a row, and three runs in a row and get those first downs. It makes life a little easier as a quarterback.” — Luck
>> “I think he wanted to let RG3 know that he can run, also.” – Wayne on Luck’s rushing touchdowns
>>“The ball hit my hands and I dropped it. Big-time players make big-time plays. It just didn’t happen. In a big-time moment like that, you could definitely blame the loss on me.” – Browns receiver Josh Gordon
A rhythm runner, Ballard got the touches he needed to find his groove, consistently moving the pile. Of his 20 carries, eight covered at least six yards, solid consistency from the rookie. Carter was a solid complement, although he missed reads on a couple of plays that could’ve led to big gains. Luck started well, completing 7 of 11 for 102 yards in the first two drives as the team converted its first five third downs. But he struggled thereafter, going 9 of 18 for 84 yards as the team converted just 1 of 11 on the third down, including failures on its last seven. Luck was under constant pressure in the second half, when he was sacked three times and lost his third fumble of the season. Overall, Luck had his most modest numbers of the season (16 of 29, 186 yards). Wayne had six receptions for 73 yards.
Angerer’s return obviously was a spark to a run defense that had been shredded for nearly 600 yards in the previous three games. The Colts limited No. 3 pick Trent Richardson to eight yards on eight carries in the first half and he sat out the second to nurse his sore ribs. Cleveland’s longest run was a 13-yard scramble by Weeden, who had a nice game (25 of 41, 264 yards, two touchdowns) but came up short in the clutch, misfiring on five of his last seven throws. The downside was a lack of big plays by the Colts, who did not produce a sack or turnover and had just two tackles for loss.
Forget everything else: the Colts did not let Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs hurt them with a long return. On this day, that’s really all that mattered.
Other than right tackle Winston Justice, who did not finish the game with an ankle injury, the Colts emerged relatively healthy, which has been a rarity this season. They’ve established a nice home field advantage; now, they have to do something about the road, where they’ve been blasted twice.
This game was hardly a model of efficiency, but it was the first time this season the offense stuck to the script and made things happen on the ground, taking pressure off Luck. The defense was solid but needs to find ways to make plays. The Browns contributed nicely to their own demise with Gordon’s drop, nine penalties and some curiously cautious coaching from Pat Shurmur, so it’s important not to get too excited about the overall performance in this one. Give the Colts a C-plus.