But, with two wild card teams currently at 10-4, the division crown is the only real shot Indianapolis has at making the playoffs. That would make up for the 12-4 Colts needing to travel to the 8-8 Chargers following the 2008 season, hopefully with the home team pulling out the victory.
Special teams giveth, and special teams taketh away: Regardless of whether Mike Thomas signaled for a fair catch on his punt return touchdown — to me it looked as though he thought the punt was going to be short and was trying to waive his blockers off — the Indianapolis coverage unit gave up on the play way too early. There's a reason that coaches are constantly talking about "playing to the whistle" and that return was yet another example.
Even if Thomas had called for a fair catch, the whistle would have blown when he caught the ball. The kicking game has repeatedly taken a back seat to the other two phases of the game for the Colts the last few years and that play was yet another example of their futility on special teams.
The silver lining was the fantastic play Tyjuan Hagler made on the onside kick late in the fourth quarter. If he had simply just fielded the ball cleanly and fallen down, it would have been a heads-up play. He did Indianapolis one better by scooping the ball and scoring, putting the game away.
With the Raiders and Titans — two excellent special teams units that tend to prey on lesser units — looming on the schedule, it will be important for the Colts to get sharper, play harder, and pay more attention to the kicking game. Sunday proved the importance of special teams in tight games later in the season and the games will only get tighter.
It will hurt the offense, but the Colts need to shelve Austin Collie for the rest of the season: With two concussions already this year, Collie may literally not be able to survive another one if it happens this season. Indianapolis needs to win out and Collie would be an important part of that run, but some things are bigger than the game.
Collie is a competitor and will want to get back on the field, but there is too much at stake. If he suffers another concussion this season, his best case scenario could put him out of football, with more pessimistic scenarios either putting him in a coma or killing him.
The only way to keep him off the field is to put him on injured reserve, which is what the Colts should do. With time and testing, he might be completely healed for the start of the 2011 season, but the risk is too high at this point.
Aaron Francisco proved himself: He's still no Bob Sanders (when healthy), but Sunday's game was Francisco's toughest test of the season and he passed. The Jaguars isolated on him and tried to get the ball to tight end Marcedes Lewis whenever they had a one-on-one match-up with Francisco.
Lewis had six receptions for 63 yards on seven targets, but Francisco kept him out of the end zone and kept him from making any big plays. Lewis was going to be involved in the offense regardless, as he has become more and more involved throughout the course of the season and David Garrard has grown to trust him, so six catches and 63 yards counts as containing Lewis. Francisco got off to a rocky start, but has settled in nicely.
Don't jump on the Donald Brown bandwagon just yet: Brown had a very favorable matchup and Peyton Manning fed him the ball early in the game up the middle, but he did get 49 of his 129 yards on one carry. He still averaged 6.1 yards per carry on his other 13 attempts, which is impressive for a regular back for a regular team, but unheard of for Brown running the ball for the Colts.
He also fared much better than Dominic Rhodes — who still probably needs to shake some of the rust off — as Rhodes averaged only 2.9 yards per carry against the same defense. It's encouraging that Manning trusted Brown early and also trusted him near the goal line, but one performance does not erase the better part of two seasons of futility. Brown ran with confidence and decisiveness and needs to continue this momentum next week, as he has another favorable matchup against the Raiders.
If Indianapolis can continue to run the ball well, then they should be able to overcome the loss of Collie, especially if Rhodes rounds back into shape and Mike Hart and Joseph Addai come back at 100 percent for the playoffs.
Don't expect Jacksonville to roll over: The Jaguars far exceeded expectations this season, but finally succumbed to the better team on Sunday. They can't be expected to just mail in the rest of the season now, though, as all it would take is one slip up from the Colts for them to be back on top of the division.
Indianapolis needs to keep pushing and keep winning. They are in a strange situation for them, needing to win games at the end of the season, but they need to maintain focus and keep their foot on the gas now that they are in the driver's seat.
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