News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 26, 2012

Wild card looking mighty doable right now: Colts improve to 7-4 with win

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — Don't look now, but the upstart Indianapolis Colts have jumped to the front

of class when it comes to securing one of the two available wild-card berths

in the upcoming AFC playoffs.

Coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-14 loss at Cleveland, the Colts'

20-13 home-field National Football League win Sunday over Buffalo gives the

team a 7-4 record heading into next week's road game with Detroit.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, had eight turnovers without its two top quarterbacks

in losing to the Browns. The Steelers are now tied with surging Cincinnati

for the second wild-card spot, both with 6-5 records.

While interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continues to stress

taking each game as it comes, coming away with a win over Buffalo was huge.

"You know, in the beginning when this thing was put together, [coach] Chuck

[Pagano] built everything on team. I think that was a team victory right

there," Arians said Sunday. "I couldn't be prouder of the football team

because Chuck was [at the game] and the goal was to make him smile when he

left. And I'm sure he¹s up there [in team owner Jim Irsay's stadium suite]

smiling."

Indianapolis had to battle through some rough patches en route to the win

over the Bills. With the Colts' offense slow to get untracked, it was left

up to the defense and – yes – the special teams units to come up with some

big plays.

They certainly didn't disappoint. Rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton's 75-yard

punt return for a touchdown midway through the first quarter had put

Indianapolis out in front early, giving the Colts a lead that they would

never relinquish.

Two Adam Vinatieri field goals (from 25 and 19 yards out), along with an

8-yard pass from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to Hilton late in the third

quarter, provided all the scoring Indianapolis would need. But the Bills,

who had come into the game needing a win in order to boost their post-season

hopes, certainly made things interesting.

Their defense sacked Luck four times, three by Pro Bowl end Mario Williams

and one by tackle Marcell Dareus, and intercepted him once (backup

cornerback Justin Rogers). Luck also looked out of rhythm all afternoon,

completing 20 of 37 passes for 240 yards and a TD. He misfired to wide-open

receivers early in the game and then struggled at times to get the ball

downfield due to the constant pass rush.

Still, the Colts made plays when necessary in other areas. Hilton's punt

return got Indianapolis off to a good start. The defense, led by inside

linebacker Jerrell Freeman, bent often but limited Buffalo to just one

touchdown and a pair of field goals by Rian Lindell (33 and 31 yards).

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's 1-yard toss to backup tight end Lee Smith

with 11:30 remaining in the game had narrowed the margin to 20-13. When it

looked like the Bills were on their way to tie the game in the fourth

quarter, safety Tom Zbikowski intercepted Fitzpatrick and returned it 20

yards before fumbling the ball back to Buffalo.

Still the Indianapolis defense made plays. With 4:31 left, the Colts' pass

rush forced Fitzpatrick out of the pocket on first down and a pickup of six

yards. Freeman, who ended the game with 16 total tackles, dropped Bills

running back C.J. Spiller for a 4-yard loss on second down.

A third-down pass from Fitzpatrick to Spiller fell incomplete. Buffalo

punter Shawn Powell's booted the ball away and pinned Indianapolis back at

its own 5-yard line. The Bills, though, never saw the ball again.

The Colts controlled the final 3:22 of the game, picking up a big first down

with an 11-yard run on second down. A 14-yard pass from Luck to wide

receiver Reggie Wayne, also coming on second down, gave Indianapolis another

first down and another chance to control the clock.

And, finally on third-and-10 with 1:48 left in the game, Luck's pass to

Wayne was incomplete but the Bills were called for pass interference on the

play. Game over.

Wayne ended the game with eight catches for 102 yards, which was impressive

enough. But he also used his veteran skills as a receiver to draw a pair of

crucial pass interference penalties, enabling the Colts to keep drives

alive.

"All phases, our special teams, showed up huge. I thought they won the game

for us. Not only with the return for the touchdown and the field position

they created but how well they covered. Those are two great returners

[Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin and Brad Smith]. We asked [punter] Pat [McAfee]

to have his best game ever as a kicker and he really contributed. He kicked

the ball great," Arians said afterward.

"They didn¹t give them anything on defense, hung in there when they had to.

Offensively, we were able to put a drive together and finish one there at

the end of the third quarter, which I thought was a solid drive. At the end

of the game, to be able to ice it out running and throwing – it's not a time

to get conservative, it¹s a time to make first downs. Our guys did a good

job of doing that."

Buffalo had some success offensively. Spiller rushed 14 times for 107 yards,

including a long run of 41 yards. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught six

passes for 106 yards, with a long play of 63 yards. But after both of those

plays, the Colts defense didn¹t allow a touchdown. And as the game turned

out, not giving up a TD in either or both situations loomed large later.

"You knew C.J. [Spiller] was going to break one or two; just keep him out of

the end zone and don't let him score. Our guys hustled to the end. We chased

some guys down on long plays and then defended every blade of grass that was

left and that¹s the way you play defense," Arians said.

Fitzpatrick completed 17 of 33 passes for 180 yards and a TD. He was also

sacked twice, one each by Freeman and outside linebacker Robert Mathis.

The Colts plan to celebrate the win over Buffalo for a short time and then

begin preparations for a tough matchup with Detroit.

"It's just one game at a time. Once you start doing that, we're going to add

them up and see where we stand tomorrow. I know we have seven wins and not

too many teams do," Arians voiced.

"We've got a big, big challenge in Detroit against a high-powered offense

and another great front four. We¹ll see how our guys came out [of Sunday's

game] and see who is available Wednesday and go back to work."