The Colts Made A Huge Statement Sunday
By Corbin Smith
After an early onslaught by the Seattle Seahawks, the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium sat silently, stunned as the visiting team opened up a 12-0 lead over the Indianapolis Colts following a blocked punt and a safety. In just a little over 10 minutes, the game appeared to be on the verge of getting ugly quickly. Andrew Luck and the offense had been unable to muster more than one first down on the team's first three possessions, and Russell Wilson's ability to scramble away from pressure created major problems for Indy's defense.
However, the Colts continued to do what they do best and persevered. No other franchise handles adversity quite like this special group of players, and that trend continued this week. A series of big plays awakened the crowd and swung momentum back toward the home team, spearheaded by a 73-yard bomb from Luck to speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton beat safety Earl Thomas on a deep corner route and sprinted down the sideline to cut the Seahawks lead to 12-7. Hilton said that he had no idea the play would be coming his way until he heard the crowd roar as the ball flew through the air and into his grasp, and a game that had blowout written all over it changed in an instant.
After Wilson marched Seattle back into Colts territory, the drive stalled and the Seahawks were forced to attempt a field goal. This became a central theme for the game, as the Seahawks' inability to finish drives came back to haunt them. Reserve defensive end Lawrence Guy reached up and blocked Steven Hauschka's field goal attempt, which was then scooped up by undrafted rookie Delano Howell and returned for a 61 yard touchdown. In a matter of minutes, Indianapolis erased Seattle's quick start and suddenly had the lead.
As the crowd got back into the game, things became much more challenging for Seattle offensively. The Seahawks entered the game once again missing three starters on the offensive line, but the unit performed admirably during the early stages of the contest. Seventh-round draft choice Michael Bowie opened up several running lanes along the right side that created big runs for Marshawn Lynch, while Wilson appeared to be more comfortable throwing the football out of the pocket than he did last week against the Houston Texans. After Howell's monumental touchdown return, the defense tightened up and started invoking chaos in the backfield. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky became more aggressive with play-calling and started to come at Wilson from all angles, exposing the injury-riddled line. Robert Mathis led the charge, as he wrapped up Wilson for his 100th career sack in the waning moments of the first half and abruptly ended Seattle's last second effort to tack on three more points.
Seattle found ways to move the football in the second half, but the Colts defense buckled down and forced the Seahawks to take three field goals during the third quarter. One of those field goals came after Chris Clemons strip-sacked Luck and the Seahawks took control inside the Colts 35 yard line. Despite starting in great field position, a series of penalties derailed the drive and Seattle only managed to get three points off of the turnover, leaving the score at 25-17. While Wilson continued to run for his life on pass plays behind a porous offensive line, Luck steadily broke down Seattle's top-ranked defense and Hilton continued to generate big plays. The Colts started operating a no-huddle offense and the transition paid dividends immediately, as Luck led a methodical ten play drive that culminated with a 29 yard touchdown strike to Hilton in the left corner of the end zone. Seattle would add on another field goal before the end of the quarter to extend the lead to five points, but the Colts offense had found its rhythm and started to wear down the opposing defense.
One of the game's biggest calls came during the opening moments of the final quarter. Facing a third and four from their own 25 yard line, Luck misfired on an out route to Hilton. However, the officials called star corner Richard Sherman for pass interference, which gave Indianapolis an automatic first down. Instead of being forced to punt, the Colts kept moving the chains and Seattle's defense started to show desperation. On two separate occasions during the fourth quarter, Seattle brought pressure on third-and-long situations and hurried Luck out of the pocket. While under heavy duress, the young quarterback showed his own escapability evading Seahawk defenders and finding Hilton for key first down conversions. With each successive conversion, the Colts continued to break Seattle's will, and a running game that had been near non-existent all afternoon long started to make plays. Making matters worse, the Seahawks also had used all three of the team's timeouts with nearly nine minutes left to play.
Third down efficiency became a telling story for the game, as Indianapolis converted 7 out of 12 third down attempts. Seattle managed to only convert on two third downs all afternoon, and that woeful effort ended up forcing the Seahawks to take field goals and leave lots of potential points off of the scoreboard. After Donald Brown's three yard touchdown plunge and a Reggie Wayne two point conversion put the Colts up 31-28, Indianapolis quickly shut down Seattle and forced a three-and-out. Without Seattle out of timeouts, Trent Richardson and Brown helped Indianapolis eat nearly five minutes off the clock and a clutch field goal by Adam Vinatieri extended the Colts lead to six. Wilson tried to will his team to a final touchdown drive, but he ended up throwing a decisive interception to Darius Butler on fourth down, ultimately ending the game. The crowd roared as Luck took a knee and the final seconds melted away, giving Indianapolis yet another signature win and handing Seattle its first loss in 2013.
Heading into this game, many still questioned this Colts team. Even after handily beating the San Francisco 49ers on the road two weeks ago, fans and experts alike didn't know what to think about Chuck Pagano's club. After defeating a talented Seattle team that many consider a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC, there's no question that Indianapolis deserves to be in the discussion as a potential challenger to the Denver Broncos in the AFC. There remains plenty to work on, as the defense will need to continue to improve against the run after surrendering over 200 yards rushing to Wilson and Lynch during this game. The Colts also need to continue to progress running the football, especially with Richardson, who again managed to only average around three yards per carry. But with a vastly improved defense overall and an offense that continues to evolve into a lethal, multi-dimensional attack, the Colts have the goods to make some major noise this season.