Finally, Colts finished what they started
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 21-9 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedExField. The main takeaways? The Colts opened a season at 1-1 for the first time since 2013 and Frank Reich earned his first win as a head coach.
- They finished: We’ve criticized these guys for putting themselves in position to win, only to find ways to lose. So let’s give them some well-earned props.
The Colts settled into a 14-3 halftime lead – their 11th time halftime lead in the last 17 games – and still were in front 14-9 heading into the fourth quarter. Instead of fading, they heeded Reich’s week-long message.
“Just finish. Just finish,’’ he said last week.
Done. And done.
“We finished the game the way we wanted to finish,’’ Reich said in his post-game press conference.
At some point, the inability to finish has to take a toll on a team’s psyche, especially with such a young group. The Colts were 2-8 in their previous games with a halftime lead, including in the season-opening 34-23 loss to Cincinnati.
Doubt could have crept in early in the fourth quarter when Dustin Hopkins’ 49-yard field goal narrowed Indy’s lead to 14-9. Even though the defense still was dominant, the offense had lost its way. On two third-series drives, it managed 5 yards and Luck suffered his second interception of the day.
“There’s probably a moment in there when some people are thinking, ‘Oh, here we go again’ when the third quarter starts,’’ Reich agreed. “That thought probably went through everybody’s mind.
“That’s fair until we prove otherwise. Today was just step 1 to proving otherwise, that we’re going to finish the right way when we can.’’
- Finish, by the offense: The Luck-led offense tacked up two early TDs – a 7-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ebron and rookie Nyheim Hines’ first career TD, an 8-yard run – then inexplicably went away. The next five series netted 18 yards.
Then, life. Then, a game-sealing 13-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 7 minutes, 32 seconds. The Colts had recaptured the game’s momentum.
“That’s sports to a certain degree, momentum,’’ Luck said. “It’s such a funny thing. I don’t know if there is a magic bullet, per se, but I do know on the longer drive we all just did our jobs and we did them well.
“We got that first first down and got things moving.’’
Luck was 4-for-4 on third-down conversions on the drive: a 5-yard completion to Chester Rogers on third-and-2, his sneak on third-and-1, a 12-yard hookup with Jack Doyle on third-and-1 and Luck’s 3-yard TD to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-goal.
On Hilton’s second touchdown of the season, he lined up left and flowed to the right while other patterns were crossing to the left. The result: wide open.
“It was a big-time call in a big-time situation,’’ Luck said. “Didn’t hesitate and we had talked all week, ‘This is a call we’re going to get to.’’’
The last drive, Reich agreed, “was clutch.’’
Clutch has been an appropriate description of the Colts in clutch time thus far. The offense converted 9-of-16 third-down situations against Washington after going 11-of-17 in the opener.
- Finish, by the defense: Let the record show Darius Leonard officially snuffed out Washington’s faint comeback bid by breaking up a fourth-and-4 Alex Smith-to-Chris Thompson pass with 23 seconds remaining.
Consider it an exclamation mark by the rookie linebacker and the defense.
Leonard was credited with – brace yourself – 18 tackles, including 15 solos. His was a fat stat line that included 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit, 1 defended pass and 1 forced fumble that cornerback Pierre Desir recovered.
“Unbelievable,’’ Reich said.
That was an apt description for the entire defense. It failed to give up a touchdown for the first time since week 15 of 2016, a 34-6 win at Minnesota, and twice limited the Redskins to Hopkins’ field goals following Luck’s interceptions.
The Redskins hammered Arizona for 182 rushing yards last week. They were limited to 65 yards on 22 carries Sunday. Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson were held to 21 yards on 15 carries. Peterson needed 11 carries for his 20 yards, and often found himself dealing with Colts defenders in the backfield.
Washington’s leading rusher: wideout Jamison Crowder with 29 yards on two carries.
Leonard wasn’t a one-man act, even though it might have seemed that was the case. Safety Clayton Geathers had 11 tackle and Kenny Moore II nine. Along with Leonard, Jabaal Sheard and Jihad Ward, activated from the practice squad late in the week, notched sacks. Margus Hunt had two tackles for a loss and had his third sack of the season negated by a penalty.
“Man, the defense just played so hard,’’ Reich said. “They were swarming to the ball.’’
- O-line steps up: Injuries forced the Colts to use a second different starting offensive line combination in as many games. It was more than good enough.
“Great job,’’ said Luck, who was sacked once.
Le’Raven Clark stepped in at left tackle for Anthony Castonzo, who missed his second game with a hamstring injury. Joe Haeg, the left-side starter in the opener, returned to right tackle. It was Clark’s ninth career start, but first at left tackle.
“He did a helluva job,’’ Luck said. “I’m very proud of him. I’m so proud of the guys front.’’
The running game was effective with 104 yards on 28 attempts. Rookie Jordan Wilkins led the way with 61 yards on 10 carries. Marlon Mack made his first appearance of the season and finished with 34 yards on 10 carries.
- First for Frank: The win was the first of Reich’s head coaching career. A Colts.com video showed him dancing and celebrating in the locker room, but he was more composed in his post-game press conference.
“It means a lot,’’ he said, “but the great thing about this game is the team aspect of it. It’s ours together as a team, as a new era of Colts football.’’
- Medical update: Defensive lineman Hassan Ridgeway exited the game in the second half with a knee injury. Cornerback Quincy Wilson did not return after suffering a concussion in the second half.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.