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NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
Hello, Tom Brady.
Thanks to the San Diego Chargers' 27-10 AFC wild-card playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts will be traveling to Foxboro, Mass. to face Brady's New England Patriots at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday night.
While it will be the fourth postseason meeting between New England and the Colts, it will be the first head-to-head playoff matchup between Hall of Fame-bound Brady and Indianapolis second-year quarterback Andrew Luck.
The two franchises faced off in a regular-season game at Gillette Stadium last season with the Patriots coming away with a 59-24 win. Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns in that game. Luck, meanwhile, connected on 27 of 50 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Indianapolis players and coaches had to wait until the conclusion of the Chargers-Bengals game before knowing their next playoff opponent. The Colts advanced to the divisional round of the postseason with a wild 45-44 come-from-behind victory over Kansas City at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night.
Had Cincinnati won on Sunday, Indianapolis would have been visiting Mile High Stadium in Denver and a rematch with the AFC West champion Broncos. The Colts won this year's meeting with Denver, pulling off a 39-33 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano didn't care which Pro Bowl quarterback -- Brady or Peyton Manning -- his team faced this week.
"Either way it's a huge undertaking and a huge challenge as we know," said Pagano. "Two of the best that ever played the game. We've faced both. We know both. Again, it'll be a huge challenge."
Pagano noted the Colts have a lot of work to do in order to clean up mistakes from the Kansas City win.
"Obviously things are heightened as you move on in the tournament and playing the teams that you're going to play," he said. "I think when you look at it, it's like any game. Everything that's on that tape is correctable. Certainly we can do a lot of things better and we'll go back to work when they come back in here once we find out who we're playing and what day we play on. We'll come back in here like always and go back to work and try to get better."
Indianapolis came out of the Chiefs game with a couple of injuries, most notably cornerback Greg Toler's groin as well as wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) and safety LaRon Landry (concussion). Toler was placed on injured reserve, while the status of Heyward-Bey and Landry likely won't be known until late in the week.
Facing New England on a short week may be the biggest issue. Indianapolis came out of its win over Kansas City with some very tired players and coaches. The Colts rallied from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to post the second-largest playoff comeback victory in National Football League history.
"I think everybody is whipped, mentally and physically," Pagano said. "By the grace of God, you get out of there with a victory, you're able to go home and sit on the couch, turn the TV on and find out that it did happen. It is real. It wasn't surreal."
"Those guys, our players, they lay it on the line week-in and week-out. They truly left nothing, nothing, out there. Again, it just speaks to the type of kids we have and the character. Special, special group man. Just a special group of men. Players and coaches. We'll find a way to muster up just enough to try to move on."
The memorable win over the Chiefs was highlighted by tweaks made by the Indianapolis coaching staff over the course of the second half. While Indianapolis didn't completely slow down Kansas City's offense, the Colts were able to slow it down enough to enable Luck to engineer the comeback.
"I've never been a part of anything like it," Pagano said. "These guys are able to put things behind them. Never too high, never too low. Stay with the process. From day one, they've bought into that theory, that philosophy. That's why they're able to do the things that they've done to this point over a two-year span.
"To be able to come back. Call it amnesia, focus, whatever you want to call it. Pretty resilient bunch that plays one play at a time and doesn't look at the scoreboard and doesn't judge. They'll just go as hard as they can. They understand the mistakes that were made and they put it behind them and they move on."
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
--Colts offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus was asked about Luck and what he means to the franchise:
"This is what I say about Andrew. There's a little piece of all of us in that kid," said Cherilus. "When he makes a tackle, he's got Robert Mathis in him. When he's recovering a fumble and diving in the end zone, he's Donald Brown.
"There's a little piece of all of us in him. We believe in this guy and he believes in us. He's going to be a very special player for us for a long time. He already is."
--Indianapolis backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on how Andrew Luck led the Colts on a game-winning really after trailing 38-10 in the third quarter. Luck had thrown three interceptions in the game before the rally.
"He pressed the 'clear' button. He was just out there ballin'," Hasselbeck said.
The Colts had a franchise-record 536 yards in total offense in the win over Kansas City.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Former New England WR Deion Branch was signed to the Colts' active roster five days before the teams meet in the Divisional Playoffs. Branch had two stints with the Patriots (2002-05 and 2010-12). He also played five seasons with Seattle (2006-10). He was a teammate of Colts PK Adam Vinatieri at New England and backup QB Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle. He has caught 518 passes for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in 140 regular-season games. He has started 111 games. Branch currently lives in suburban Indianapolis and had initially worked out for the Colts last month.
--WR T.Y. Hilton posted franchise postseason records in the wild-card victory over the Chiefs with 13 catches for 224 yards. Hilton also had a pair of receiving touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 64-yard pass with little more than four minutes remaining in the game. His catches and yards broke club records held by Raymond Berry and Reggie Wayne, respectively. The 13 receptions are tied for the second-most in NFL postseason history. And the 224 receiving yards is the third-ranked playoff performance.
--S Antoine Bethea made a play early in the Kansas City game that may have gone unnoticed at the time but that proved huge later. Bethea's ankle tackle of Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe after a 63-yard reception at the Colts' 2-yard line set up an Indianapolis goal-line stand. Kansas City was forced to kick a field goal. The play loomed large in the wake of Indianapolis' one-point victory.
--OLB Robert Mathis's strip-sack of Chiefs QB Alex Smith in the third quarter helped to key Indianapolis' second-half comeback in the win over Kansas City. In fact, Mathis' tackle - made after he was initially blocked on the play but then spun away to make the hit - could have been the decisive play in the game. Mathis was only credited with two tackles in the game, but that one play epitomizes his value to the franchise.
--CB Josh Gordy was pressed into extensive service in the Colts' nickel package after starting CB Greg Toler tweaked a previous groin injury. Gordy played well in the win over Kansas City, coming up with five tackles and a pass broken up. His pass coverage of Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe on the final offensive play of the game for Kansas City helped to quell a last-minute drive.
--ILBs Kavell Conner and Josh McNary continue to play well for the Colts off the bench. Conner had four tackles and McNary three as they rotated with Jerrell Freeman and Kelvin Sheppard. McNary has gotten more playing time over the past month due to the loss of former starter Pat Angerer, who was forced to sit out the rest of the season due to knee issues.
--WR Josh Lenz was elevated from the Colts practice squad to the active roster. Lentz had been signed by Indianapolis on Nov. 11. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Chicago last spring. Lentz has also spent time on Seattle's practice squad.
--CB Greg Toler (groin) has been placed on injured reserve. Toler has been bothered by a strained groin since the Oct. 20 game with Denver. He missed several weeks of practice and games but was brought back four weeks ago against Kansas City. He saw limited work against the Chiefs and Jaguars. Toler started against Kansas City but was limited. He was taken out of the game after giving up a 71-yard touchdown pass to WR Donnie Avery.
--WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) is not expected to be available to play against New England this week. Heyward-Bey was hurt in the latter stages against Kansas City. He did not return.
--S LaRon Landry (concussion) is continuing to undergo protocols. He was hurt against the Chiefs. His availability for the New England game won't be determined until later this week.
--OG Joe Reitz (concussion) practiced last week but did not play against Kansas City. Reitz was initially hurt late in the season. His status for the New England game will be updated later this week.
--DT Fili Moala (knee) has been placed on injured reserve. Moala was hurt against Jacksonville in the final regular season game. He experienced swelling in his knee last week and did not play against Kansas City. Team doctors recommended shutting him down for the season.
--OLB Daniel Adongo (hamstring) is expected to practice this week and be available for the New England game. Adongo was hurt late in the season and has seen limited work in practice. He was a pregame inactive against Kansas City.
REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS:
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- QB Andrew Luck was on fire against Kansas City at the beginning of the game. He connected on his first seven passes and led the Colts to a first-quarter touchdown. He struggled in the middle of the game, throwing three interceptions. Well, only two. The last interception was the result of a catch and then a bobble by WR T.Y. Hilton. Luck, though, finished strong. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns after the first play of the third quarter. For the game, he connected on 29 of 45 passes for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He ended the game with a 98.7 passer rating. Luck was also sacked once while completing passes to six different receivers. Hilton had a career night outside of his bobble, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 64-yard pass with little more than four minutes remaining in the game. TE Coby Fleener added five receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B - After an early first-quarter fumble, RB Donald Brown got the bulk of the work over RB Trent Richardson. Brown had 55 yards rushing in 11 carries, including s 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Luck added 45 yards on seven carries. Luck also scored on a five-yard fumble recovery after Brown was hit at the goal line, scooping up the loose ball and diving into the end zone.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus - The Colts struggled all night against Kansas City's passing attack. Indianapolis allowed passing plays of 79 yards for a touchdown to WR Donnie Avery and 63 yards to WR Dwayne Bowe. In total, Indianapolis gave up six passing plays that went 10 yards or better and five passing plays 15 yards or more. That has to be cleaned up before going up against New England's Tom Brady this week. Chiefs QB Alex Smith completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns. Smith had a passer rating of 119.7. He was sacked twice, including one that resulted in a fumble and a recovery by the Colts.
RUSH DEFENSE: B - Losing RBs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis to injuries hurt the Kansas City running attack. Charles left early with a concussion and did not return. As a team, though, the Chiefs ran for 150 yards on 32 carries as Davis had 67 yards in 18 carries and a touchdown. Smith added 57 yards on eight carries. Charles had 18 yards in three carries before he was forced to leave the game. As a team, Kansas City ran for 150 yards in 32 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus - PK Adam Vinatieri made his only field-goal attempt, hitting from 37 yards out. P Pat McAfee averaged 45 yards net and 51 yards overall on his only punt of the game. McAfee also had one touchback on a kickoff. WR LaVon Brazill had his best day of the season on kickoff returns, averaging 30 yards on three returns. The Colts coverage units also did a good job on Kansas City's Dexter McCluster on punts and a pretty good job on S Quentin Demps on kickoff returns (seven for 26.7).
COACHING: B-plus - The Colts fell into an early hole against Kansas City, trailing 31-10 at the half and 38-10 early in the third quarter. But give head coach Chuck Pagano and his assistants plenty of credit. They made the necessary adjustments offensively and defensively. Also give credit to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who has taken a lot of hits this season for his play calling. But Hamilton did a masterful job against the Chiefs, especially during the second-half comeback. And give credit to Pagano for keeping the team together and not allowing them to give up on themselves.