INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday defeated the Houston Texans, 22-13, in their Week 17 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What's top of mind for the Colts after ending their season at 4-12?
How could a game that ultimately meant so little mean so much for the Indianapolis Colts?
Photos from the season finale game against the Houston Texans
Well, the elephant in the room probably had a lot to do with it.
The Colts players were well aware that Sunday's game against the Houston Texans could be the last for Chuck Pagano as their head coach, so they made a concerted effort to put all that noise to rest for a few hours and just have some fun.
Toss the records out the window; toss out the postgame implications. Just play football.
So the team put together without a doubt its most dominant second half all year — yes, the same third and fourth quarter periods that had given the Colts fits pretty much the entirety of the 2017 schedule — and were able to run away with a 22-13 victory that gave them the season sweep over their AFC South rivals, as well as push Indy into a third-place finish in the division standings.
The locker room was an emotional place after the game, as a proud Pagano addressed his troops one last time, and was given the game ball for all of his efforts. After all, it's not exactly easy to hold things together when your team has had to endure major injury after major injury, close loss after close loss and when all you're playing for the final weeks of the season is simple pride. But while other teams had reports of in-fighting and bickering, the Colts stayed together (even as their roster didn't), which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The Colts didn't take long to delay the inevitable after the game, announcing that they had, indeed, parted ways with Pagano. But Pagano, and this team, at least went out a winner.
Time after time this season, the Colts just haven't been able to find a way to make a game-changing play to run away with a victory.
But Hassan Ridgeway and the Colts' defense found a way to get the job done on Sunday.
After rookie running back Marlon Mack put the Colts on top, 14-13, about midway through the third quarter (see below), the two teams traded a couple possessions before punter Rigoberto Sanchez was able to pin the Texans' offense back to their own eight-yard line.
So on first down, Ridgeway wasted little time.
With an obvious miscommunication along the Houston offensive front, guard Chad Slade, on the snap, initially took a couple steps inside instead of accounting for the defensive tackle across from him, Ridgeway, who went untouched right on top of the back of quarterback T.J. Yates a couple yards into the end zone for a safety.
The play gave the Colts a 16-13 lead — and immediately gave them the ball back, too. Seven plays later, Adam Vinatieri would drill a 54-yard field go to put Indy up six, and then a field goal on the Colts' final drive was the needed nail in the coffin for a nine-point, runaway season-ending victory.
PLAY OF THE GAME
To everything, churn, churn churn.
When the Indianapolis Colts selected Marlon Mack in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, many were excited about the rookie's ability to hit the "home run," so to speak, at any given moment.
Mack certainly displayed flashes of those talents throughout his first NFL season, but on Sunday, he also showed off his ability to grind out some tough yardage inside — to put his team up for good.
Facing 2nd and Goal from the Houston one-yard line, quarterback Jacoby Brissett handed the ball off to Marlon Mack, who took the handoff to the right and ran into a crowded pile of big bodies around the two-yard line.
Down 13-7 a little past midway through the third quarter, however, the Colts had no interest in facing a loss of one, as well as third down.
So Mack kept those powerful legs churning, and he might've had some assistance — just a little — from a couple (or three, maybe four) teammates to eventually fall into the end zone to tie the game at 13.
Adam Vinatieri would put the Colts on top for good with the PAT, sparking a 15-0 second-half run to snap Indy's six-game losing streak.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• The second half, particularly defensively. The Colts allowed 180 total yards in the first half — 29 total yards in the second half. Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller combined to rush for 68 yards in the first half; they combined for eight rushing yards in the second half. T.J. Yates completed 10-of-15 passes for 112 yards in the first half; he completed 4-of-9 for 25 yards in the second half.
• Frank Gore really turned on the jets in the second half, too. He had six rushing attempts for 12 yards — with a long of five yards — in the first two quarters, but in the final two quarters, he had 18 carries for 88 yards, with a long of 16 yards, to finish his day with 24 carries for 100 yards on the dot. While Gore came 39 yards short of a second straight — and 10th overall — 1,000-yard season, he was one of the few guys able to be in the lineup week in and week out and give the same consistent performance each and every game, which, of course, has been Gore's hallmark throughout his Hall of Fame career.
• The Colts were good enough on third down (6-of-13; 46 percent), won the turnover battle (1-0), had fewer penalties (four for 20 yards compared to seven for 34 yards for the Texans) and had the ball longer (31:13 to 28:47) on Sunday. That's usually a direct recipe for a victory in the NFL, which, of course, was how this one played out for Indy.
• The youngsters, for a second straight week, played pretty darn well for the Colts. Mack had his aforementioned touchdown and had a couple more electric plays with the ball in his hands. Quincy Wilson played really well in coverage again, and was rewarded with a thank-you-very-much interception — this first of his career — on the final play of the game. Sanchez had a phenomenal day punting the ball — five punts for an average of 47 yards, with a net average of 47.6 and three downed within the 20-yard line. Anthony Walker got his second straight start at inside linebacker and led the team in tackles with six. Kenny Moore II, before suffering a concussion, had four tackles and a pass defensed in yet another start for him at cornerback. Grover Stewart had three tackles as he got a little more action within the Colts' defensive front. And Tarell Basham provided two really nice quarterback pressures and hits as he continues his late-season surge. Those are all terrific ways for these rookies to enter the offseason with a little momentum.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• The first half, particularly on the offensive side of the ball for the Colts. Indy mustered up just 73 total yards — just 17 of which came on the ground — in the first two quarters, and Gore, who was assumed to be a huge part of the gameplan as he pursued the 1,000-yard plateau, had just six total carries (for 12 yards) during that span.
• While penalties weren't a major issue overall, two of them helped extend Houston drives on third down on their first drive of the second quarter. On 3rd and 4 from the Houston 31, outside linebacker Bakevious Mingo was flagged for an offsides penalty, giving the Texans a fresh set of downs. Then, three plays later, on 3rd and 1 from the Houston 45, Yates' throw to wide receiver Cobi Hamilton fell incomplete, but cornerback Quincy Wilson was flagged for pass interference, setting up a 1st and 10 from the 50. The Texans would take advantage later in the drive, as Alfred Blue ran for a two-yard run touchdown to put them ahead, 10-7, with 7:01 left in the first half.
The following players were injured during Sunday's game:
• Cornerback Kenny Moore II (concussion; didn't return)
The Colts head into a critical offseason not only in search of their 20th head coach in franchise history, but general manager Chris Ballard, now in his second year, can continue working on shaping and building this roster — and he has the No. 3-overall pick at his disposal.