INDIANAPOLIS –Some games are more dramatic than others, and each win in the NFL has its own style.
From 1998-2010, Colts fans were thrilled with offenses that produced 5,000 net yards annually, while scoring 400 or more points 10 times during that span.
Former Head Coach Tony Dungy, a defensive type by nature, remarked early in his tenure that started in 2002 how stressed players were at halftime of games when they had not scored a bunch of points. A workman-like win in progress was cause for concern. As players fretted, Dungy was amused.
Sunday was a workman-like outing for the Colts, and it largely was an effort of grinding efficiency.
The Colts entered yesterday's game with a 2-3 record that needed to reach .500 if the team were going to continue a real pursuit of being in the post-season hunt in a crowded AFC.
Indianapolis was returning to Lucas Oil Stadium, where three previous games were decided in the final minute, and with the team winning twice. A second straight tough road loss preceded yesterday's game, and injuries thinned the defensive ranks dramatically.
Running the ball and stopping the run, a bedrock philosophy of Head Coach Chuck Pagano, was not done seven days earlier when the Jets out-rushed the Colts, 252-41. The Colts were facing a Cleveland team burgeoning with young talent, and the Colts knew it was time to produce.
Cleveland deferred its choice on the coin toss, providing the Colts the ball. What became a grinder of day started on the second scrimmage play.
The Colts gained a 30-yard chunk on a pass from quarterback Andrew Luck to Reggie Wayne on the first snap. On the second play, rookie running back Vick Ballard chewed up six yards on the ground.
Nine plays later, Indianapolis was in the end zone when Luck scored from three yards out – 80 yards, 11 plays, seven coming on the ground.
After Cleveland answered with a 16-play, 90-yard drive that would have tied the game had it not been for an aborted placement attempt, the Colts drove 76 more yards on 14 plays to take a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter. This drive had seven rushes and passes. Luck extended the possession by finding three different receivers on third-down completions, then he became the third Colts quarterback ever with two rushing scores in the same game when he kept from five yards out.
Cleveland narrowed the margin in the third quarter to one point, but the Colts got the lead back up to four points with 18 minutes to go. Cleveland never got ahead and while Indianapolis could not ice the game until late, it kept grinding away with its young team.
With Pagano watching from home while fighting an illness, interim head coach Bruce Arians framed the nature of the win afterward.
"We're obviously excited about the win. To get to 3-3, be in the hunt now in the AFC with a bunch of other teams (is important)," said Arians. "A lot of mistakes today that can be corrected, myself included, and we'll go from there. (It is a) pretty happy locker room to get to 3-3. That was our goal no matter what."
The Colts rushed 37 times, while passing 29 times, the first time this year the team ran more often than it threw. The 148 rushing yards marked a season-best and nearly matched the team's net passing yards (173).
It was the first time the Colts out-rushed an opponent this year, and the club went from zero first downs rushing at the Jets (only the sixth such game in franchise history) to 10 against Cleveland (a club first in 23 outings).
Sixteen of the team's 37 rushes gained five or more yards. The club's lone fourth-down conversion came on the ground, too.
Arians said there was no real point of emphasis to run against Cleveland, just identifying what was needed to get to 3-3.
"It was just a matter of give and take. You're going to keep pounding it until they stopped it. We wanted to do that. We want to run it every week," said Arians. "As the game unfolds, it's, 'What's it going to take to win the game?' It was run the ball, and we were very good at it."
In a tough league, Arians said getting chunks of five yards or greater so many times was an accomplishment.
"There's no doubt. I thought we could block them," said Arians. "Our tight ends did great jobs on two good defensive ends. Any time we play a 4-3 (defense), tight ends have to play well. I'll give credit to them."
After attempting 40 or more passes in four previous games and topping 300 passing yards three times, Luck was happy with a grinding, "team" win.
"Absolutely. A win's a win at the end of the day," said Luck. "As an offense, we won't lose sight of the fact that we struggled in the second half. We came out great in the first half. We'll take the win, and we'll get better in the process.
"100 percent, I think (it was a team win). Everyone – special teams, defense, offense – was working together. That's what it takes, as I'm quickly finding out in this league."
It had been since the 2010 finale that Indianapolis held an opponent below 60 rushing yards. Starters Cory Redding, Robert Mathis and Fili Moala were out with injuries, while reserve Martin Tevaseu was down, too. Newcomers on the line in the past two weeks – Lawrence Guy, Clifton Geathers and Antonio Dixon – were called into action.
After yielding a touchdown on the first possession of the second half, the unit forced four punts and made a defensive stand at its 39 to do its part.
Arians said the approach of running and stopping the run is a mindset he shares with Pagano.
"No doubt, no doubt. No matter how, that was a better balanced football team for us today, and we have to stay that way," said Arians. "We can't be one-dimensional and we don't want to be. It leads to chunks for us where we can run the ball and have the hard play action and Andrew (Luck) will live longer."
Safety Antoine Bethea knows yesterday's defensive success is something that has not been achieved regularly, but he hopes it will be as the club meets Tennessee in a second divisional battle in 2012.
"It's been a point of emphasis throughout the season. Some games we do a decent job of it. Some days we do a poor job of it," said Bethea. "Against Cleveland, we did a great job as a team. Hopefully, when we watch this tape as a team, we'll see how much it benefits us as a team to stop the run.
"We always talk about stopping the run. That's the main thing we've got to do, stop the run to make them one-dimensional. It's hard to stop a team who's running and passing on you."