SAN FRANCISCO – It was like 2012 all over again-or more like it was early in the season.
Back then the Colts were perceived as a rebuilding team lucky to win a quarter of their games in the first season under head coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck. Indianapolis would prove that though wrong as they won 11 games and qualified for the playoffs.
Sunday that same feeling was back just nine months after the postseason appearance as recent events turned optimism into skepticism in just two weeks. Three offensive starters for the season, another few were slated to be out for a road contest against the 49ers-the defending NFC Champions who seemed poised for a big game after a poor showing against Seattle seven days before.
After the Colts dropped a winnable home game to the Dolphins last Sunday, there was much doubt that the Colts could prevent their second consecutive 1-2 start to the season.
“I think we were very disrespected,” said offensive lineman Mike McGlynn-who was forced to play center after an injury to Samson Satele. “All the media stuff it doesn’t mean anything in the locker room, but we knew that no one in the country picked us.”
Perhaps it was that perceived lack of respect that in a way motivated the Colts, who delivered a dominant performance for 60 minutes against the defending NFL runner-up. The 27-7 victory is one of the best of the Pagano era and improved the Colts to 2-1 for the first time since 2010.
“We’re so proud of what we did. The only people that believed in us were the city of Indianapolis and everyone in this locker room,” said defensive end Cory Redding. “Nobody in the world gave us a chance. If you just play every single weekend, you’ve got an opportunity to win a game.”
What made this weekend better than the others was the Colts’ ability to answer the many questions which critics and fans had with the team through two weeks. The first was the rush game, which received a major boost from the acquisition of Trent Richardson from Cleveland mid-week. The new running back scored the Colts’ first touchdown of the game-capping a 77-yard drive to open the contest-and set the tone for a run-first effort.
The Colts gained 179 yards with an average of 4.6 a carry. Bradshaw led the way with 95 yards on 19 carries and scored one of the three touchdowns for Indianapolis on the ground.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight and we knew our team was counting on the running backs to run hard today,” said Bradshaw. “We had a couple of lineman down so we knew we had to grind it out. We knew it was going to be that type of game-a grind game.
“We worked hard for that today.”
Even Andrew Luck got into the act with a six-yard bootleg touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Colts in command of the contest. Opposite of past weeks, the Colts ran the ball 39 times and passed just 27, which is more indicative of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s desire for a power run game.
“It meant a whole lot to the team.,” said Luck of the success of the run game. “For our offense to be successful, we are going to have to run the ball with success. I can’t give enough credit to guys like Jeff Linkenbach who step in and play a full game against a phenomenal front seven.”
On the other side, the Colts defensive line and linebackers enjoyed a performance that may have been envisioned when the team made changes in free agency last spring. After allowing the 49ers to go 91 run-aided yard down the field for a touchdown in the first quarter, Indianapolis’ defense shut the door on Colin Kaepernick for the final 45 minutes.
In the final three quarters the Colts allowed just 154 total yards and didn’t allow a single points while forcing a pair of fourth quarter turnovers that sealed the win.
“Well their engine is [QB Colin] Kaepernick and [RB] Frank Gore, so we had to account for those two guys,” said defensive end Robert Mathis, who collected a sack on Sunday. “We had to game plan around them and we were able to get that done today.”
Yet again, the Colts get it done after a loss in the Pagano era. Since he took over as coach, the team has yet to lose back-to-back games, rebounding from the seven losses in that time with victories every time.
“We hold a streak and we kept the streak alive. Not one time did we lose back-to-back games a year ago,” said Pagano. “To find a way after a disappointing loss at home, to travel as far as we traveled and beat a quality opponent like we beat today, it just speaks volumes about our guys and the character of our players.”
Especially when people count them out.