Say this for the Indianapolis Colts, these guys are consistent. They don’t win with convincing style, but they keep adding games to the “W” column and insist they aren’t paying attention to the playoff scenarios.
After Sunday’s 27-23 comeback win over Tennessee at Lucas Oil Stadium, ILB Jerrell Freeman was asked about improving to 9-4.
“I guess that’s OK,” Freeman understated. “It’s alright for us.”
But can he sniff the playoffs now?
“Nah. I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on around the league. Nah, I’m not going to do it, not yet.”
OK, so they were too busy coming back from a 20-7 halftime deficit to realize just how improved their postseason situation has become. They didn’t know Pittsburgh and Cincinnati both lost to drop to 7-6.
After initially tweeting the Colts’ magic number for clinching a playoffs berth was one, a fan reminded the N.Y. Jets are 6-7, which at least for now adds another scenario. So it’s actually a little more complicated than definitively stating a magic number.
In simplest terms, if the Colts win one of their last three games, they clinch. It’s probably best just to concentrate on that than waste brain cells analyzing “lose out” scenarios in which the Colts would still make it if they lost their last three and finished 9-7. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Asked about how he’s a long way from finishing 2-14 a year ago, ILB Kavell Conner said, “It feels good, man.”
Colts rookie running back Vick Ballard leaps over Titans defenders in the first half. Ballard finished with a season- and career-best 94 yards rushing on 19 carries. (Matt Detrich / The Star)
So is he sniffing playoffs?
“Not at all,” Conner said.
In the interest of full disclosure, he was told of the Steelers and Bengals losing. So what, he basically said.
Seriously, his family or friends are going to mention how the Colts are playoff locks, right?
“They might say it,” Conner said, “but I don’t listen to it.”
The other consideration, remote of course, is the Jets could win out to finish 9-7, and if the Colts lost out they would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker to the Jets. But one would think the Steelers or Bengals will also finish with at least a 9-7 record, which then factors in the conference-record tiebreaker.
The Colts are 6-3 in conference play. The Bengals are 5-5, the Jets 4-5, the Steelers 4-6. Either the Steelers or Bengals are going to lose when they face each other in two weeks at Heinz Field, and the Colts have the tiebreaker edge on both of those teams now.
Of course if the Colts lost out, they would be 6-6 in conference play, which could allow other teams into that tiebreaker. But the mind is starting to spin, paralysis from over analysis.
The best either the Steelers or Bengals can finish is 10-6. The best the Jets can finish is 9-7. Once again, with feeling, one more Colts win renders all of this other stuff meaningless.
In a game that looked like everything was going wrong for the home team, the Colts did what they have done most of this year: They clawed back and pulled this one out.
Ugly? Yeah, so what.
Colts CB Cassius Vaughn got torched in the first half. It seemed like Titans QB Jake Locker’s game plan was to throw the ball to whomever Vaughn was covering.
But in the third quarter, Locker went to the well once too often with an ill-advised pass into the flat, intended for WR Nate Washington but intercepted by Vaughn and easily stepped into the end zone for a 3-yard TD.
Just like that, the Colts led 21-20. Delone Carter had scored on a 1-yard TD run to finish a 14-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half.
The Titans took one last lead, then the Colts seized it back as PK Adam Vinatieri booted field goals of 53 and 40 yards.
Titans running back Chris Johnson, the 2009 NFL rushing champion, never had any room to run. The Colts stuffed him for just 44 yards on 19 carries. It’s worth noting this was a team effort. Ten different Colts had tackles on Johnson.
As much as the defense leaked in the first half, only one field goal allowed after halftime gives your offense every opportunity to rally and win. Vaughn’s pick-six helped, too.
Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck threw his third pick-six of the season on an ill-advised throw from his knees in the second quarter. Yes, the replay booth was sleeping in this one. Luck’s knee was down before he let the ball go, but we can all say so what now. The booth botched another review in the first quarter on a Titans completed pass. That ball came out.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri does his signature fist pump while holder Pat McAfee signifies the result, a 53-yard field goal to give the Colts a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter. (Matt Detrich / The Star)
All that aside, it’s as if the Colts can’t make anything easy on themselves. This team has to gut it out. Each win has to be earned.
If the playoffs were today, the Colts would be the fifth seed and traveling to Baltimore, which dropped to the fourth seed after losing in overtime at Washington.
That’s news to us most of us. But not to the Colts. They’re not paying attention to the big picture, not yet, or so they say.
But nine wins with three to go? Who would have thunk it?
It’s safe to say the Colts have earned the opportunity to play at least one more game come January.