Colts Grind Out Their First Win of the Season

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck decided to take their fans on another jolting rollercoaster ride for their 26-22 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

It was a game that had many people uneasy on a beautiful, 82 degree Sunday afternoon where the retractable roof and window to Lucas Oil Stadium was….closed?

From the much needed 10-0 Colts lead in the first quarter, to the boneheaded interception and fumble by Luck that lead to a tie game at the half, finally to a fourth and seven with a 0-3 start to the season looming at the other end; they sure didn’t make it easy.

But, they got the job done.

Earlier in the week, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton talked about his disappointing start to the season. In Indy’s first two games, the struggling Hilton had only 10 catches for 120 yards. Decent, but not up to his expectations. He told the media that after the loss to the Denver Broncos he apologized to his teammates in the locker room, telling them it wouldn’t happen again. He later on Wednesday called his own shot.

“We’re 0-2, and we can’t go down 0-3,” said Hilton to reporters. “I have to make plays. I guarantee I’ll make plays Sunday.”

He is a man of his word.

Hilton had eight receptions for 174 yards, including the game-winning touchdown reception of 63 yards with 77 seconds remaining. But it wasn’t just the 63-yard reception that stood out. Hilton made plays throughout the game; something he knew needed to be done with Donte Moncrief inactive. He had a couple of beautiful catches near the sideline in the first half, and kept up his workload in the second half.

When the Colts had their season slowly tumbling to shambles before them, on their 20 eyeing a fourth and seven, he was there again, barely picking up the first down on a ball that didn’t meet him in stride from Luck. Two plays later, Luck didn’t dare to make the same mistake again, hit him in stride, and Hilton scurried into the end zone to give the Colts the 26-22 lead.

The Ghost had returned.

“That’s what they pay me for,” said Hilton, who signed a 5-year $65 million contract before the 2015 season.

The Colts finally received some good news before the start of the game on Sunday. Previously sidelined Vontae Davis, T.J. Green, Trent Cole, and Henry Anderson all made their way back to the playing field Sunday.

And it showed.

Yes, the Chargers are dealing with more injuries than almost anyone; besides Phillip Rivers their three best offensive players Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and Danny Woodhead all didn’t play due to injury. And yes, Rivers missed some wide-open receivers and was let down with some dropped balls, but we won’t let that damper the mood.

The Colts secondary drastically improved, forcing Rivers to hold the ball for far longer than he is comfortable. Rivers has always been a quick releaser, meaning he dinks the ball five yards down the field and allows his receivers to do the rest, but defensive coordinator Ted Monachino and the defense entered Sunday’s game well prepared.

Forcing Rivers to hold on to the ball longer inevitably led to more pressure and a flustered Rivers. He threw for five touchdowns and had a 81.9 and 85.6 quarterback rating (QBR) in his first two games, but didn’t find the end zone and had a QBR of just 62.8 on Sunday. The defense also forced three turnovers.

Healthy bodies lead to results.

Of course it wasn’t all good for the Colts. Luck keeps giving his critics something to shout as he struggled with turnovers yet again. Their offensive line, which played well in the first half with rookie Joe Haeg (notice the holes between Haeg and Ryan Kelly in the first half for Gore?) getting his first career start at right guard, struggled in the second half when Joe Reitz left with a back injury. Their running game faded in the second half.

But a win’s a win.

This team was one play away from going 0-3, something they haven’t done since 2011 when Peyton Manning missed the entire season with an injured nerve. Since the current playoff format took effect in 1990, only five 0-3 teams have made the postseason and nobody has done it since the 1998 Buffalo Bills.

A huge win.

The Colts have a new mindset going into this Sunday’s peculiar matchup in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars (9:30 am ET). They will leave Thursday afternoon, electing not to choose the path of most teams and spend most of the week in London prior to the game to get acclimated to the time change. They no longer have to play with the worry and pressure of getting the first win of the season, so look out for a more relaxed team on Sunday.

One win is good, but everything isn’t just dandy because you beat the Chargers at home. Lose again this week to a winless divisional foe? All the troubles resurface. Win? It keeps the ball rolling. Time to get back to work.