Colts shutout Cowboys to stay in AFC playoff race

The Colts have asserted themselves as mobile, agile, hostile, certifiable, undeniable giant killers the last two weeks. Ending the Texans’ 9 game winning streak two weeks ago in Houston wasn’t good enough for Indianapolis. This week, they shut down and shut out a Dallas offense who had been playing lights out since acquiring Amari Cooper in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. As winners of their previous 5 games, there was reason to believe that Dallas would continue their hot streak against a Colts defense that historically has been poor against the Cowboys; However, this year’s Indianapolis Colts defense is not the same as in years past. This year, the Colts have quietly built a top 10 defense, and have shown that they’re no longer one trick ponies.

This game was statistically interesting in the beginning. Dallas controlled the clock for most of the first half, as they managed to keep the ball for over 19 minutes! Unfortunately for the Cowboys, time of possession is nothing if you don’t do anything with it. The opening drive went 10 plays for 45 yards, and took 5 minutes off of the clock, but the Indianapolis defense stepped up, as defensive tackle Denico Autry batted down a 48 yard Brett Maher field goal attempt. With both teams scrambling to recover the blocked kick, Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard fell on the loose football, and the Colts took possession at the Dallas 44 yard line. That block pretty much set the tone for the Cowboys day. Dallas had a few opportunities to keep this game close, but ran out of steam, or made costly mistakes in the red zone.

From the 44 yard line, Indy began their first offensive possession. The Colts chipped away at the Dallas defense, as Andrew Luck reeled off two quick passes to Nyhiem Hines and T.Y. Hilton to get a first down. From there, Marlon Mack took over the drive. Over the next 6 plays, Mack would run 5 times for 34 yards and a touchdown from a yard out. After seeing a drop off in yards over the last few weeks, Mack turned in a career high performance in this game, as he ended with 139 yards on 27 carries and 2 touchdowns.

Those were the big stories of the day. Mack runs wild, Dallas fizzles out on each of their drives, Indianapolis forces a shut out, and the Cowboys winning streak ends at 5 games. It was a great team win for the Colts, and much needed. As winners of 7 of their last 8 games, Indianapolis is now a feared playoff contender. They’re the kind of team that no one wants to face this time of year. Top 10 on offense and defense, killing winning streaks, and getting hot at just the right time, stirs up some memories of dark horse teams of the past. When I think of this team, I find them eerily reminiscent of the 2007 New York Giants who managed to sneak in to the NFC 6th seed at 9-7 and run the the table, all the way to a Super Bowl victory against the then undefeated New England Patriots. I find myself asking if Indy could make similar waves if they manage to break into that last AFC wildcard spot.

To get into the playoffs though, the Colts don’t control their own destiny. Indianapolis needs to keep winning. With 5-9 Giants team at home and a road trip to Tennessee to battle a Titans team that Indianapolis beat 38-10 in week 11, the schedule looks favorable. That being said, the Colts will also need either the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens to lose one of their final two games. With the Steelers facing the NFC’s top team (New Orleans Saints), and the Ravens facing the 11-3 Chargers next weekend, the odds look good for at least one of those teams to drop a game. If this happens, and Indy handles the Giants, the Colts would face a “win and you’re in” scenario in Tennessee week 17. Indy also has another interesting (less likely) playoff scenario. Should they win out, and should the Texans face a devastating collapse by dropping their final two games, Indianapolis would finish at 10-6 with the AFC South crown atop their heads.

Photo Credit: OregonLive.com

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