Like, for example, the Colts moving past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC playoff rankings.
With their halting but nonetheless meaningful 20-13 victory over Buffalo Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, that’s precisely what the Colts did. At 7-4, they took sole possession of the fifth seed as the Steelers dropped to 6-5 with a loss to the Browns.
From a game that offered little in the way of flow or, really, drama despite the relatively close score, there was no shortage of material for the weekly collection of Hot Reads.>> T.Y. Hilton is close to a big play – for the Colts or their opponents – on just about every return. He has shown something less than jealous ball possession in those situations (and in fact has been removed from the kickoff return rotation) but broke off a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter. He later had an eight-yard touchdown catch to cap the Colts’ best drive of the day, an 87-yarder to open the second half that pushed their lead to 20-6. Hilton thus became the first player in franchise history with a receiving and punt return touchdown in the same game. He also was the first I remember to have a fumble overturned in replay review when officials determined his buttocks hit the field before he lost possession. Cheeky call.
>> Reggie Wayne keeps piling up records, although I confess this latest one seems a bit random: most games in NFL history with a least three receptions (59). What’s the significance of three catches? Do they also track consecutive games with at least four? Or two? Not to diminish the achievement, which speaks nicely to his consistency, but this stat seems a byproduct of seepage of analytics into every facet of every sport. How does Reggie do against left-handed cornerbacks on turf at night? If there’s not a website that can tell you know, there will be soon.
>> Oh, and by the way, Reggie had 102 yards on eight catches and moved past Derrick Mason into 11th on the all-time receptions list (946) and past Irving Fryar for 14th on the receiving yards list (12,813). Now those are some meaningful stats.
>> When looking for linebackers that can cover the field, perhaps Canada is the next frontier, given the wider field (65 yards compared to 53.3 yards in the NFL). It certainly has worked out for Jerrell Freeman, the former CFLer who racked up 16 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss. “If you can run sideline-to-sideline there,” he said, “it’s a little easier here.” Freeman has led the Colts in tackles nine times and has earned the nickname “Baby Ray” from his teammates. I think that’s in reference to Lewis, and not the barbecue sauce. Either way, a delicious desgination.
>> Special teams play was huge for the Colts. Aside from Hilton’s TD, Pat McAfee dropped two punts inside the 10 and the coverage teams contained Brad Smith and Leodis McKelvin, who’ve combined for three return touchdowns this year.
>> Here’s how good Andrew Luck is: he passes for 240 yards, reaches 3,000 for the year (joining Peyton Manning as the only Colts rookies to do so) and what do we do? Yawn.>> Chuck Pagano actually looks pretty good bald, or so it appeared from a distance on the big screen when the coach was shown waving to the crowd from owner Jim Irsay’s suite. While his smooth pate was the result of chemotherapy to treat leukemia, two Colts cheerleaders had theirs shaved for a charity fund-raiser between the third and fourth periods. Surprisingly, both looked pretty good – or at least better than the Colts players did when they pulled out the clippers as a tribute to Pagano a few weeks ago.
>> Buffalo was victimized by some strange decision-making – by the coach, players and officials (read on).
>> With his team backed up to its own 8-yard line, 58 seconds remaining in the half and one timeout, Bills Coach Chan Gailey suddenly turned into a gunslinger, calling for consecutive passes that fell incomplete, eventually punting and giving the Colts superior field position (their own 49) with 32 seconds left, leading to a short drive and a field goal that was made possible by the officials. Time appeared to expire before Luck was able to spike the ball but the officials put one second back on the clock so Adam Vinatieri could trot out for the 19-yarder that made it a seven-point margin at the half.
>> The officials also intervened a few plays earlier when Wayne caught a 25-yard pass from Luck to the Bills’ 3-yard line and appeared to be stripped of the ball by safety Jairus Byrd before hitting the turf. Because it was in the closing seconds of the half it could not be challenged but certainly seemed to merit a booth review, but Referee Ed Hochuli turned on his microphone, said there was no fumble and that was that.
>> And then there was the strange choice of Stevie Johnson. After streaking down the sideline behind the Colts’ secondary for a long reception, Johnson had only to outrun Tom Zbikowski to reach the end zone. But instead of running away from the Colts’ safety, Johnson cut back to the middle of the field – into the defense, and wound up stopped at the Indianapolis 17-yard line. There the drive stalled and the Bills had to settle for a field goal.
>> Gailey opted not to have Ryan Lindell attempt a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter, calling for a punt instead. In the coach’s defense, Lindell hasn’t tried a 50-plus kick since 2010 (when he was 2 of 5) but in the NFL, on turf, in a domed stadium, if you don’t believe your kicker can make a 51-yarder, you need a different kicker.
>> The strangest play of the day came late, with the Bulls trying to drive for the tying score, when Ryan Fitzpatrick, under pressure, was picked off by Zbikowski. With the game in his hands, Zbikowski just had to cradle it and fall to the field but instead fought for extra return yardage and was stripped by Johnson. Thus, a second-and-14 at the Colts’ 36 turned into a first down for the Bulls at their own 47.
>> Shortly thereafter, it was announced Zbikowski had a shin injury. I really should’ve asked afterward if that was the result of a kick from the coach.