by Kent Sterling
The Indianapolis Colts are 4-5, swapped offensive coordinators six days ago, and have teetered on the brink of unspooling throughout the first half of the season. There have been memorable lapses throughout the season as the Colts have won a single game outside of the putrid AFC South.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t good news, and in our never-ending pursuit of remaining positive, here are the top 10 positive takeaways from the first nine weeks of this mostly unsatisfying season:
1 – Frank Gore is playing like a man five years younger. He was especially proud of yesterday’s performance. “Do I look old?” he asked me five times as we talked following the game. I told him he doesn’t look 33. “I’m 32!” he barked. Truth is he doesn’t look anything like a 32-year-old running back while on a pace to become the Colts first 1,000 yard rusher since 2007.
2 – Mike Adams has five picks through nine games, and while his ankle injury might be serious, until I hear that he is going to miss significant time, I’ll continue to count him as a unique asset for this team. His interception yesterday was one of the plays that gave the Colts a chance to win. Adams has a nose for the ball, and is a consistent presence on a defense in need of consistency.
3 – Matt Hasselbeck can still play. Another old man on this roster was pressed into action as Andrew Luck’s ribs and shoulder healed. Granted, the Colts played lowly opponents in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans in his two games, but the 40-year-old was the steady hand the Colts needed as he completed 48-of-76 passes for 495 yards, three TDs, and no picks. His passer rating of 95 is 20 points higher than the QB he is paid to back-up.
4 – Colts lead the AFC South. It’s seems like division domination is a birthright for the Colts franchise. Losing the South is almost unthinkable, and despite the turmoil surrounding the team, they nurse a 1/2 game lead over the Texans heading into the bye week with one game left against each of their AFC South rivals. Sweep those, as has become the Colts habit, and anyone catching them is a virtual impossibility.
5 – Donte Moncrief has emerged as a #2 (if not #1A) receiver just in time to counter Andre Johnson’s recession into irrelevance. His five TDs lead the team, and while Moncrief is as explosive as T.Y. Hilton, he uses his big strong hands to win 50/50 balls more often than not.
6 – Owner Jim Irsay was as lucid in his comments to the media yesterday as he has been in my memory. When Irsay is thinking clearly, he is a sensible and effective leader who knows that his team’s organizational flowchart should include an owner who hires someone to run his team, the guy who runs things, and a coach that coaches. Yesterday, Irsay seemed like that guy.
7 – Response to Pep Hamilton being replaced by Rob Cghudzinski was positive. Scoring 27 points against the NFL’s best defense is no easy feat, and given the total emotional meltdown of the Broncos late in the game, there are plenty of reasons to feel good about the seven remaining games of the regular season. That Colts didn’t just win the game, they BEAT the Broncos defense by regularly converting third downs in the second half.
8 – Griff Whalen is starting to look like a slot receiver that can be counted on to deliver big third down catches. He is the prototypical small receiver who dazzles with nothing, but rarely drops the ball or makes a negative play. Every quarterback needs a security blanket, and Whalen keeps Andrew Luck warm on third down.
9 – Adam Vinatieri is rolling. After blowing his first two field goal attempts of the Season, the 42-year-old Vinatieri has drilled his last 11. In those games featuring a made field goal by Vinatieri, the Colts are 3-1, and the loss was in OT against the undefeated Panthers after Vinatieri made a kick to give the Colts a lead.
10 – The next seven games are against Atlanta, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Houston, Miami, and Tennessee. Their combined records are 24-34. The two teams among those with winning records – Atlanta (6-3) and Pittsburgh (5-4) are flawed and headed in the wrong direction. The Colts appear unlikely to run the table to post its fourth straight 11-5 regular season record, but this cupcake schedule should allow the Colts to avoid the ignominy of winning its division despite a posting losing record.
Sure, it would have been as easy – maybe easier – to assemble a list of reasons for Colts flavored pessimism, and that might be a fine idea for a list later in the week. The Colts win yesterday showed some poise that had been lacking in finding a way to kill the last six-minutes of a three-point game without giving Manning a chance to author yet another comeback in Lucas Oil Stadium. That was good enough to inspire a guy with a hideous pile of blond hair on top of his head because of the Colts malfeasance to feel good about the prospects of this team turning the corner.