INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts earned victory No. 1 on the season on Sunday with a 31-28 decision over the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts after improving to 1-2 on the year?
That feels much, much better.
It's not just the fact that the Colts were able to earn their first victory of the season, but they were mostly able to do it decisively with a dominant first half, and then slowly shut the door in the second half with a couple key defensive plays before holding the Browns off in the final seven minutes to get the win.
Perhaps most importantly, the team has showed much improvement for two straight weeks after getting blown out by the Los Angeles Rams, 46-9, in their season opener. Last week, in a 16-13, overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the defense really stepped up big against a potentially-explosive Bruce Arians-led offense.
This time around, it was the Colts' offense's turn to take over. Jacoby Brissett is making everybody forget this fact: he was acquired by Indianapolis in a trade on Sept. 2, yet three weeks later, here he is making plays all over the field for his new team as its starting quarterback. Credit goes to Brissett, for sure, but also to the coaching staff for making that happen.
The Colts have avoided an 0-3 start for a fourth straight season, and now face another tough West Coast trip next week against one of the stingiest defenses around. But, make no bones about it, there will be a pep in everyone's step this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Jacoby Brissett has obviously been playing some Madden.
After getting the Colts going with a five-yard rushing touchdown late in the first quarter, the second-year North Carolina State product used his legs again to find the end zone at the 10:06 mark in the second quarter.
He got flushed out of the pocket to his right, but then, Brissett set his sights on the end zone, which was about 17 yards away, and he hit the spin move to juke out two Browns defenders around the 14-yard line — seven yards away from the original line of scrimmage — before sprinting untouched into the end zone.
Brissett becomes the first Colts quarterback to earn two rushing touchdowns in a game since Andrew Luck did it twice in 2012 (vs. the Browns and vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars).
PLAY OF THE GAME
In the days leading up to the game, T.Y. Hilton said the Colts just couldn't go out and lose against the Browns. It just *won't *happen.
He did his best to make sure of that in the first half on Sunday.
He would finish his day with seven catches for 153 yards, but it was his long touchdown play that was Quintessential Hilton.
Facing a 3rd and 6 from their own 39-yard line, the Colts lined up with Brissett in the shotgun and Robert Turbin next to him, and four receivers — including tight end Jack Doyle — spreading out the defense.
With the pressure coming from his right side, Brissett fired a strike to Hilton, who got himself wide open on the near sideline around the 50-yard line. From there, he used a nice block from Quan Bray — as well as just his own pure speed — to cut up the field and break free, and he went untouched for a 61-yard touchdown, putting the Colts up 21-7.
Hilton finished the first half with 145 receiving yards, which were the third most in the first two quarters in franchise history (he had 156 on Oct. 9, 2014).
Rashaan Melvin picked a good time to get the first two interceptions of his career.
He was a hero of sorts for the Colts in a third quarter in which the Indy offense would stall, but the Cleveland offense really showed some signs of life — except when rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer decided to throw Melvin's direction.
The fifth-year pro had two interceptions in the quarter, both of which featured incredible timing. His first pick came with the Browns driving and looking to make it a one-score game, getting to the Indianapolis 17-yard line. Kizer fired a pass near the end zone, but Melvin dove to come up with the interception, his first, at his own 3-yard line. Crisis averted.
Then, the Browns looked like they were going to take advantage after Jack Doyle had a rare lost fumble late in the third quarter. But with 11 seconds left, Melvin earned his second pick, negating the possible disaster for the Indy offense, which would respond with a 10-play, 34-yard scoring drive that milked 4:53 off the clock and ended with an Adam Vinatieri field goal to put the Colts up 31-14.
Melvin has filled in admirably all season for No. 1 cornerback Vontae Davis, who has been battling an injured groin. He finished his day on Sunday with two tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• The Colts' offense took another step in the right direction on Sunday, gaining 335 yards of total offense — 260 of which came in the first half. Brissett was a big part of that, finishing 17-of-24 passing (70.8 percent) for 259 yards with a touchdown, while also running for two scores, on the day. He obviously gives Indianapolis a viable option under center while Luck continues to work his way back to the field after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
• Indianapolis won the turnover battle 3-1, intercepting Kizer three times, which included Melvin's two picks and a game-ending interception by rookie safety Malik Hooker, who easily grabbed the final pass of the contest to make it two straight weeks with a pick. The Colts' only turnover was Doyle's fumble, while Brissett never really seemed to give the defense a chance to get close to any of his throws.
• Frank Gore scored a rushing touchdown for a second straight week, punching it in from four yards out at the 2:41 mark in the second quarter to cap four straight touchdown-scoring possessions for the Colts and to make it 28-7 towards the end of the first half. The 34-year-old Gore so far this season has 35 rushes for 132 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, and on Sunday became the ninth player in NFL history with 3,000 career rushing attempts.
• Inside linebacker Jon Bostic led all defensive players on Sunday with 10 tackles, including eight solo stops, with one tackle for loss and a pass defensed. The fifth-year Florida product was all over the field for the Indy defense.
• Outside linebacker John Simon notched a sack for a second straight game, thwarting an early Browns drive by bringing Kizer down on 3rd and 13. It was a pure hustle play by Simon, who is about as relentless as they come off the edge.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• Penalties. For a second straight week, the yellow flags were a major problem for the Colts. On Sunday, Indianapolis committed 11 accepted penalties for 99 yards. Perhaps this is overshadowed by the fact that the Browns had 10 accepted penalties for 113 yards, including four — yes, four — offensive pass interference calls. But one can imagine Chuck Pagano will have plenty of talking points for his team about its own penalties, many of which were of the "you cant just do that" variety.
• The Colts at times struggled to get the Browns' ballcarriers to the ground, resulting in several chunk plays for Cleveland's offense that should've only been small-to-moderate gains. Although the Colts seemed to have the advantage against the run coming into Sunday's game — Indianapolis came into the contest ranking second in the league by allowing just 2.5 yards per carry, while the Browns ranked 25th in the league with 75 rushing yards per game — Cleveland finished the day Sunday with 111 rushing yards on 21 carries, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Browns, in all, had five plays of 20 yards or more on the day, two of which started as short passes.
• Despite leading 31-14 with 10:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Colts would let the Browns get back into the game and have a chance to at least tie it with a field goal on their final couple drives. Cleveland went on a 14-0 run in the final 6:56 of the game off the heels of an 11-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to Kenny Britt, and then a one-yard rushing touchdown by Kizer. Although the win is certainly the most important part of the afternoon for Indy, its next goal is to find a way to really step on its opponent's throat and come away with a resounding victory next time around.
The following player was injured during Sunday's game:
• Wide receiver Kamar Aiken (concussion, out): Aiken left the game in the first quarter after being involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit.
The Colts go back out on the road next Sunday, when they travel to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.