Indianapolis Colts Achieve Normality through Abnormality

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And just like that, all is back to normal in the AFC South … kinda.

With their 34-24 win against Jacksonville on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indianapolis Colts improved to 8-6 and moved into a tie for first place in the division they have dominated for much of the last decade. Indianapolis now controls its own destiny for a ninth consecutive playoff berth.

All seems normal. However, the way the Colts restored such normalcy was, well, abnormal.

How so? Check it out.

By Drew Allen

  • The Colts can run the ball and stop the run. Yeah, you heard me correctly. Indianapolis, who has the worst per-game rushing average in the NFL, carried the ball 24 times for 155 yards and a 43-yard rushing touchdown by second-year running back Donald Brown, who finished with 129 yards on the ground for his first career 100-yard game. The former Connecticut back also gashed the Jaguars on a 49-yard run in the first quarter that led to Indy’s first score. By contrast, Jacksonville, who seemingly routinely runs with ease against the Colts, managed just 67 rushing yards on 22 attempts — fewer carries than Indy. Maurice Jones-Drew, whose six-game streak of 100-yard games seemed guaranteed to continue Sunday, finished with just 15 attempts for 46 yards. Jones-Drew also was stuffed on multiple key plays, including for a 3-yard loss on a rush at second-and-goal at the Colts’ 1-yard line at the end of the first quarter and a fumble on a controversial fourth-down attempt in the third quarter.
  • Special teams can come up big. Boy, did Colts fans sure love to see Tyjuan Hagler scoop up that onside kick and return it all the way for the game-clinching touchdown, especially after watching what happened in the Super Bowl back in February. Also a bit abnormal, or, more accurately, a blast from the past, was seeing the recently re-signed Dominic Rhodes returning kickoffs. The former undrafted rookie, who played with the Colts from 2001 to 2006 and again in 2008, had a few strong returns (and that’s relative to the kind of production Indianapolis has generally gotten from its kick return game). Perhaps Rhodes’ return could provide the special-teams boost the Colts have long desired. Who’da thunk it?

Despite the team’s journey to this point being anything but normal, from losing more than four games to Peyton Manning’s 11 interceptions in three contests to Sunday’s affair, the fact remains that the Colts find themselves in a normal position: in first place in the AFC South. The common opponents tiebreaker will favor the Colts unless both the Jaguars and Indy finish 9-7 with a Colts loss at home to Tennessee and a Jacksonville win at Houston in Week 17.

While Indy is back in a favorable position, it might have to carry on without receiver Austin Collie, who left the game with what appeared to be a concussion for the third time in 2010. Before he left, the second-year wideout had caught eight passes for 87 yards and both of Manning’s touchdowns. It became apparent in the second half how important Collie is to the flow of the Colts’ offense, particularly with All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark already shelved for the season. The Colts struggled to move the ball through the air the rest of the way, which could raise concerns as to whether Indy can execute in its strongest department down the stretch with so many injuries.

What’s even more abnormal is that the Colts’ next opponent, the Oakland Raiders, is much tougher than it has been for much of the last decade. The Raiders’ rushing attack ranks second in the NFL, averaging 157.2 yards per contest. Perhaps even more daunting for the Colts is Oakland’s fifth-ranked pass defense, which surrenders just 197.3 passing yards per game. At 7-7, the Raiders’ playoff hopes are on life support, and one can bet they’ll bring it in front of a raucous, passionate home crowd at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum this coming Sunday.

While the road ahead certainly still poses its challenges, the Colts proved Sunday they can do things unconventionally. If Indy can do against Oakland what it did against Jacksonville — beat the Raiders at their own game — the Colts should win and would have only to come home the following week and beat a Tennessee Titans team that has essentially shut down for the season.

Accomplish that and, as abnormal as this season has been for Indy, the end result will be quite familiar: a home playoff game to begin January.

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