The Colts' 27-10 win over the beleaguered, Maurice Jones-Drew-less Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night in Jacksonville included a bit of everything the Colts will need as they try to join the NFL's true playoff contenders.
Unlike fans who had to get to work early today, I stayed in front of my TV and watched the whole thing, including every 5-yard Blaine Gabbert going-nowhere pass. I listened to Mike Mayock, who made so many odd comments I suspect he may have been watching a replay of a better game on his laptop off camera. I resisted muting Deion Sanders at halftime. (Now there's an exercise in true self-control.)
Here's what the Colts (6-3) did right:
* They let Luck roll. Luck completed 10 of his first 12 passes and the two misses were drops by Reggie Wayne. That rarely happens once a month, let alone twice a game. Luck gambled one time and threw an interception, but a personal foul kept the ball in the Colts' hands. Luck later rolled right and scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns.
Luck finished with 18 of 26 passing for 227 yards. His five rushing TDs this season set a Colts record. Luck has been compared to just about every quarterback, but I saw a little Brett Favre in his long-distance gambling and willingness to run for scores. He also made a hit after a interception that looked as good as any tackle by punter Pat McAfee. (That's not a slight. McAfee's a good special-teams tackler.)
* They managed three takeaways, all by backup cornerback Darius Butler. The first was a fumble recovery after linebacker Moise Fokou forced a fumble. The second was a pick-six where Butler jumped the route on a slow-developing Gabbert pass. The third came after Cory Redding batted away a Chad Henne pass and Dwight Freeney tipped for Butler to grab.
The Colts had only three takeaways in their first eight games. They need more defensive opportunism if they're going to compete with upcoming contending opponents New England, Detroit and Houston.
* Arians won two challenges, a sign that maybe, just maybe, he's figured out when it's a good time to throw that flag. He resisted on a questionable catch early in the game, so he was actually three-for-three in challenge decisions.
*Wayne rebounded from his first two drops to catch eight passes for 96 yards. Donnie Avery made a catch that Wayne usually makes, a deep, high-reaching reception.
* The running game was adequate. It's not necessarily something to celebrate, but Vick Ballard, Delone Carter and Donald Brown (in a very limited role) each made some contributions in helping to show a semblance of balance.
Here are a couple problem areas:
* Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn knows how to celebrate a big defensive play even if he hasn't actually come through on the play in question. The Colts need Vaughn to be more effective in reacting to the play, not the outcome of the play.
* The secondary, despite Butler's takeaways, shows a lot of vulnerability, particularly on deep passes. Blaine and Henne combined for 300 yards passing. I've been told Brady just might possess the mental and physical capacity to exploit this weakness.
* The Colts are still having a bit of trouble generating offensive scores after building early leads. The Colts led 17-3 at halftime, but the second-half offense was limited to an Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal. The other second-half points came on Butler's interception return.
* Playing Jacksonville does not, in large part, prepare a team for the New England Patriots. But it prepared the Colts in one way: They'll be confident they can win on the road.
The Colts' 6-3 record, one of the better AFC marks, marks another big step in the Pagano-inspired, Arians-directed progression of a playoff contender.