News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 23, 2013

‘Signature win’: Colts overcome loss of six starters to beat defending NFC champion on road

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS —  How big was the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-7 road win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday?

Considering the team’s injury issues, and coming off a tough home loss to Miami a week earlier, knocking off the defending NFC champions on the road was just what the coaching staff was looking for.

Six Colts starters missed the game, four on offense and two on defense. Indianapolis played with a makeshift offensive line, with offensive guard Mike McGlynn moving to center replacing Samson Satele, offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach stepping in to start at McGlynn's right offensive guard spot and rookie Hugh Thornton making his first NFL start at left offensive guard. Thornton took over for Donald Thomas, who is out for the remainder of the season.

Also, Kelvin Sheppard replaced Pat Angerer at inside linebacker and Delano Howell getting the call as the fill in for LaRon Landry.

“It is one of those games that you look back and say, maybe five, six years down the road, that was a signature win,” Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano admitted after the game. “Maybe one of those wins that propel you to do great things.

“It was just a combination of everything. It was a great team win. Offense, defense, special teams and our coverage units did an outstanding job.”

Pagano's high spirits didn't change much a day after the game either.

“Huge win. Hard, tough-fought battle. Before the game last Wednesday when they came in [to practice] we talked about preparation, we talked about execution and then we talked about sticking to the process,” the coach explained Monday.

“I felt our guys did just that. There's a lot of good things, obviously, on that [game] tape. You can look to a lot of different things. Running the ball, stopping the run. We gave up 115 yards rushing but 80 of it came on one drive. So once we got that thing calmed down, the defense was outstanding. Anytime you can hold team to seven points on the road, create two turnovers, three sacks. Pretty dominant performance by the defense.”

Indianapolis' offense did pretty well too, outgaining the 49ers 336 to 254 in total yardage (179 yards on the ground). The Colts also held a big advantage in time of possession (36:25 to 23:35), especially in the second half.

“The most impressive thing was in the fourth quarter. If you look at time of possession, I think we had the ball over 13 minutes. Outscored them 14-0 in the fourth quarter. Defensively forced a punt, got a strip sack, recovered a fumble,” Pagano said.

“[Inside linebacker] Kavell Conner recovered a fumble and gave it to our offense on the 8-yard line. And then got the pick in the two-minute drill on the tipped pass by [defensive end] Cory Redding that landed in [cornerback] Cassius' [Vaughn] hands.”

So just how good did the Colts play?

“It was as complete a game as we've played since we've been here. In all three phases. On both sides of the football and special teams. If you look at the way our [kick] coverage units played, the starting field positions for [San Francisco],” the coach said.

“They brought a couple kickoffs out and they were inside the 15 [yard line] a couple of times. [Punter/kickoff specialist] Pat McAfee was outstanding on his kickoffs. He was outstanding punting the football. Three [punts downed] inside the 20. He's a tremendous weapon. We know that.”

Template for Colts success? – When Pagano was hired, he said that his primary goals as Indianapolis head coach was to be able to run the football and control the time of possession on offense. He also wanted to be able to stop opposing teams from running the ball.

The win over San Francisco is about as close as the Colts have gotten to that game plan.

“Every game is going to be different and we are built and wired the right way to be able to pound it when we need to pound it. And if we need to throw it, obviously we have the best in the business under center that can throw it and spread the ball around. We have playmakers all over the place,” the coach said.

Run the football – Running back Trent Richardson had 35 yards in 13 carries and scored a touchdown on his first career carry for the Colts in the win over the 49ers. Richardson was traded to Indianapolis from the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday. He had two days of practice with the team before the San Francisco game.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, meanwhile, ran for a game-high 95 yards in 19 carries and had the game-deciding touchdown in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Colts had 179 yards in 39 carries for a 4.6 yard average.

Stop the run – The Colts had one hiccup on run defense during San Francisco’s lone touchdown drive in the first quarter. But overall, Indianapolis did a masterful job of keeping quarterback Colin Kaepernick contained for most of the day.  

His longest run of the game was for 14 yards and he ended with 20 yards overall. Running back Frank Gore had a team-high 82 yards in 11 carries, with 70 of those yards coming in the first half. Backup Kendall Hunter had a 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. As a team, the 49ers had 115 yards on 23 carries.

No flags – The Colts were only penalized one time in the San Francisco game. McGlynn was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty.

Through the first three weeks of the season, Indianapolis has only been penalized seven times. No team in the NFL has been flagged fewer times.

Moving on – It's time to begin AFC South play this week at Jacksonville. The Jaguars have yet to win a game this season and will come into Sunday's matchup with Indianapolis at 0-3.

“It’s only Week 3 [of the season]. Our guys understand that, our coaches understand that. We have another challenge, another ball game coming up,” Pagano said. “We have the 24-hour rule in effect. We will savor this one. We’ll go back to work on Wednesday and get ready for Jacksonville.”

Indianapolis (2-1) has already been installed as a 10-point favorite over the Jaguars. Of course, that doesn't mean much. The Colts were 10.5 point underdogs heading into the San Francisco game last week.

“A lot of great things to build on,” the Indianapolis coach said Monday. “We'll go back to work Wednesday to get ready for Jacksonville.”

Injury list – Angerer (knee), Landry (ankle), and Satele (elbow) are all listed as day-to-day, practice-wise, heading into the week.

Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois suffered a groin injury in the San Francisco game and did not return. He is also listed as day-to-day.