Not only are the Colts one home win away — against a Titans team that has packed it in for the winter — from capturing their seventh AFC South title in nine years, they have added two fresh running backs and a reborn run defense to their arsenal of weapons.
In beating the Raiders 31-26 on Sunday, the Colts' defense held a top-five rushing offense to fewer than 100 yards for a second consecutive week and the offense surpassed the 150-yard rushing mark in consecutive weeks for the first time since the 2006 Super Bowl season.
The PFW Spin
Peyton Manning makes the Colts one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL each week regardless of the players around him. A healthy Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, who were playing at a different speed than the rest of the guys on the field on Sunday, gives Manning the luxury of having a running game again, which doesn't bode well for opposing defenses come postseason time.
The 191 rushing yards the Colts gained Sunday were the most since Week Four of the 2007 season. Addai showed no ill effects from the neck injury that has sidelined him since Week Six, scoring on a six-yard scamper off right guard on only his second touch of the game.
Rhodes, whom head coach Jim Caldwell called an insurance policy after he was brought in last month, was electric, racking up 98 yards on 17 carries. He also brought to the table an element in the return game that has been missing since Devin Moore went down for the season in Week Four.
Rhodes' enthusiasm is contagious, and Manning said recently that the vibrant back has provided a much-needed shot in the arm for the Colts.
So much for an insurance policy.
Great news for Indianapolis; not so much for the rest of the league, as a position that was decimated by injuries earlier in the season and could not alleviate the pressure from Manning is suddenly leading the way for the Colts.
Manning tossed a pair of second-half interceptions similar to the uncharacteristic miscues that plagued him in a three-week skid a few weeks back, but instead of pressing to make up for his mistakes, he leaned on his running game.
In fact, perhaps the most unlikely play of the day came as a result of the Colts' revitalized ground game.
With a five-point lead and less than two minutes to play, the Colts faced a 3rd-and-2 at the Raiders' 31-yard line. Manning faked a handoff to Rhodes, but held on to the football, running to his left on the bootleg for 27 yards — his longest rush since 2001. Raiders DE Matt Shaughnessy, who had outside contain, bit so hard on the play-fake that Manning was left to run — horse on back — down to the three-yard line where he slid, icing the victory for his club. Manning could have taken it in for the touchdown, but he elected to slide — or so he says.
"If I wanted to score," the veteran QB with not-so-blazing speed said, "I would have scored. I chose not to."
On the other side of the ball, MLB Gary Brackett continued the tear he has been on the past two weeks against two of the most physically gifted ballcarriers in the league. If Brackett's turf toe is still an issue, he sure fooled us.
Robert Mathis registered another 1½ sacks, giving him 11 on the season; Antoine Bethea played an outstanding football game; Fili Moala was extremely disruptive in the backfield. Really, it was an outstanding effort across the board for the much maligned Colts' "D."
While it certainly hasn't gone as planned for the Colts this season, they're one win away from accomplishing their goal regardless of the path it took to get there. And it just might turn out for the better, as they appear to be reinventing themselves along the way.