Indianapolis Colts fans needed a glimmer of hope. Even with its asterisk-worthy circumstances, the team’s 38-3 romp over St. Louis on Sunday gave the Indy faithful a chance to smile.
The asterisk looms large. Sunday’s matchup was merely the first game of the 2012 preseason. Preseason. In their heyday, the Colts stars barely broke a sweat in such games, playing only a possession or two. Indianapolis used preseason games to decide which reserve players to keep or cut. A preseason loss was inconsequential.
That was so then, and this is so now.
Last season, Indy supporters got a stark reminder of how the NFL’s other half lives. Perennial Super Bowl expectations vanished instantly when living legend Peyton Manning’s season ended before it began, thanks to a recurrent neck injury and surgery. Of course, as all of Indiana witnessed, the Colts completely unraveled, finishing a league-worst 2-14. Owner Jim Irsay cut loose Manning and his hefty contract, then fired front-office commander Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell, and ultimately cleaned house. The rebuilding project began with the hiring of new coach Chuck Pagano and the drafting of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Colts fans and the rest of the football world wondered how Indianapolis would function after such a total overhaul, which included the departure of so many revered stars, especially Manning.
Based on Sunday’s results, the Colts look highly functional. On his first professional pass, Luck connected with running back Donald Brown for a 63-yard touchdown. In total, Luck completed 10 of 16 passes for 188 and two touchdowns. While on the field, he guided Indianapolis to three touchdowns. His “passer rating” — a formula measuring a quarterback’s efficiency and success — was 142.7. A perfect rating is considered to be 158.3.
Those are Manning-like numbers.
However — and this is a huge however — the Colts were playing the Rams in a preseason game. The only NFL club close to Indianapolis last season, in terms of futility, was St. Louis. The Rams were also 2-14, and only slightly less awful. The opposition was far from Tom Brady and the Patriots, or Eli Manning and the Giants. Still, the Colts defeated this opponent. And, in the process, they scored more points than any Indianapolis team in a preseason game since 1989. And, the Indy defense held an opponent to just a field goal.
A watershed moment in Colts history? Probably not. A flicker of optimism after spending 2011 averting our eyes? Yes. Heck, yes.
Congratulations, coach Pagano, Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, all the other returnees and all the newcomers. That performance gives Hoosiers good reasons to watch again next week.