Darius Leonard Named AFC Defensive Player Of The Month

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INDIANAPOLIS — The accolades keep pouring in for Darius Leonard.

One day after being named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his standout performance in the Indianapolis Colts’ playoff-clinching victory over the Tennessee Titans, Leonard, the Colts’ star rookie linebacker, today was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December.

Leonard joins running back Edgerrin James (November 1999) as the only Colts rookies to be named AFC Player of the Month. He’s also the first Colts player to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors since pass rusher Robert Mathis won the award twice during the 2013 season (October and December).

Leonard was a dominant force down the stretch for a Colts team that went 4-1 in December — winning its last four games — to earn a spot as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs.

In five December games, Leonard tallied 49 total tackles (34 solo), three tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, one interception and five passes defensed. During that timeframe, Leonard tied Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens for the AFC lead in total tackles, while his 34 solo tackles were tied with two other players — the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Telvin Smith and Myles Jack — for the most in the conference.

Leonard and Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, meanwhile, were the only AFC defenders to collect at least 40 tackles, 1.0 sack and one interception during the month of December.

But perhaps most importantly, Leonard led a Colts defensive unit that simply shut down its opponents throughout the month of December. In those five games, Indianapolis allowed the fewest combined points (71) in the NFL, including a 23-0 shutout victory over the NFC East Division champion Dallas Cowboys in Week 15.

Leonard's interception of Titans quarterback Blaine Gabbert with less than two minutes to go in last Sunday's Week 17 win-or-go-home divisional matchup also sealed an eventual 33-17 Colts victory, setting up Saturday's Wild Card round matchup against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Leonard’s final push in December allowed him to finish comfortably as the NFL’s leader in total tackles (163) — which also set the franchise single-season record — and solo stops (111). He also added 12.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, eight passes defensed, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

A Pro Bowl alternate, Leonard is a prime candidate for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Among rookies this season, he ranked in the top 10 in tackles (first), tackles for loss (second), sacks (second), passes defensed (ninth), interceptions (tied-seventh), forced fumbles (first) and fumble recoveries (tied-first).

Leonard is the second Colts player to earn AFC Player of the Month accolades this season, joining quarterback Andrew Luck, who was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November.

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