INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 29-23 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium:
Been there, done that: The Colts insist on doing their high-wire act without a net. Five weeks, five games decided in the final 2 minutes.
“It would feel good to blow somebody out at some point,’’ cornerback Darius Butler said.
Does Frank Gore enjoy the team’s to-the-wire approach?
“No, man,’’ he said. “I’m happy with the win, but I’d rather we sealed the deal early so it wouldn’t have to be back and forth.’’
But back and forth it was. Again.
For the second time in five games, the Colts did just enough, made just enough plays when it mattered. Or the Bears did enough to lose. We would be remiss for not pointing out Chicago was penalized 10 times for 80 yards – the Colts were 9 for 68 – and suffered the game’s only turnover with 3:29 to play in the fourth quarter. With the Colts protecting a 26-23 lead, cornerback Rashaan Melvin poked the ball out of Cameron Meredith’s grasp and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson covered it at the Chicago 29.
“Melvin made a great play,’’ Jackson said.
The offense capitalized with Adam Vinatieri’s fifth field goal of the game for a 29-23 lead, then the defense denied the Bears’ final comeback attempt. The drive reached the Indy 25 before Chicago’s 10th penalty – a hold on tackle Bobby Massie – slowed it and Brian Hoyer’s fourth-and-8 pass ended it.
“I feel very fortunate and grateful that we got this win,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said.
Unsightly or not, the Colts exited Lucas Oil Stadium 2-3 instead of 1-4. The difference is humongous.
On to Houston: Perhaps this once again speaks to the veracity of the AFC South, but the 2-3 Colts head to Houston next Sunday with a share of the division lead on the line. The Texans fell to 3-2 with a 31-13 loss at Minnesota.
“I’m glad you told me that,’’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “I’m going to make sure I get my iPad loaded up tonight and get on to Houston. That makes it even better. Play Houston and play for the division lead. We’ve got to get this thing rolling.’’
Fits and starts on offense: As expected, coordinator Rob Chudzinski used more of an up-tempo, no-huddle approach. At times it worked, with the Andrew Luck-led offense frequently finding a rhythm. Trailing for the first time at 23-19 midway through the fourth quarter, the Colts went hurry-up and zipped through the Bears defense: six plays, 82 yards. Luck was 5-for-5 for 74 yards, and capped things with a 35-yard TD to T.Y. Hilton.
“We got into the right play,’’ Luck said. “Jack Doyle did a nice job of eating the safety up on his route. T.Y. won and the line did a nice job protecting and I got the ball to him.’’
Too many times, though, the offense failed to finish. Of the first 10 drives, eight involved either a sack of Luck, a penalty or both. Luck, center Ryan Kelly, left guard Jack Mewhort and tight end Dwayne Allen were guilty of false starts. Luck bobbled two shotgun snaps. Incredibly, Luck was flagged for a delay of game coming out of a timeout with 2:39 to play and the Colts facing a third-and-4 at the Bears 23.
“Shoot, I feel like the delay of game at the end, you feel like you’re trying to lose the game in a sense,’’ Luck said.
When the offense stayed out of its own way, it was productive. Luck passed for 322 yards and touchdowns to Hilton and Allen, and finished with a 113.4 passer rating. Sunday marked the 16th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career. Hilton had 10 catches for 171 yards and the one TD.
More for Gore: Move over, Jim Brown, make way for Frank Gore.
Listen, we’re not comparing Gore with Brown. Would never do that. But let’s not diminish Gore’s accomplishment. With a 16-yard run in the first quarter, he moved past Brown (12,312 yards) into the No. 9 slot on the NFL’s career rushing chart.
“Legend, man. Legend,’’ Gore said of Brown. “What can I say? One of the best to ever play this game. I’m just blessed to be playing. I still love it. I want to keep going.’’
Gore rushed 14 times for 75 yards to push his career total to 12,368. Next up is Tony Dorsett (12,739).
“Frank is the man,’’ Luck said. “You won’t find a guy who loves football more than Frank Gore. He’s a beautiful teammate.’’
Mixed bag for D: We’ll give the defense props for holding off the Bears’ final two shots at a pulling out a victory, but the rest of the game was difficult to watch. Chicago piled up 522 total yards. Hoyer passed for 397 yards and two TDs and had a 120.0 rating. Running back Jordan Howard, a rookie out of Indiana, rushed 16 times for 118 yards and added three catches for 45 yards, including a 21-yard TD. Meredith finished with nine catches for 130 yards and a TD.
O-line dance: The Colts went with a different starting offensive line for a fourth straight game and, incredibly, the 35th time in Luck’s 60-game regular-season career. Rookie Joe Haeg started at right tackle and Denzelle Good at right guard. Joe Reitz, the usual right tackle who has been bothered by a back injury, was active but a sub.
The results? Some good, some bad. The running game averaged 4.7 yards per attempt, but Luck too often was under siege. He was sacked five times, pushing his season total to 20. That’s on pace for 64. And that’s unacceptable.
Medical update: Linebacker Josh McNary exited the game in the third quarter with a “stinger’’ and did not return. Also, cornerback Patrick Robinson had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.