The Indianapolis Colts withstood a late surge by the Cleveland Browns to pick up a crucial 31-28 home victory and move to 1-2 on the season. Despite some late-game scares and defensive inefficiencies in the second half, there were promising signs offensively that lend credence to the notion that the Colts could try to make a run at a playoff spot in the AFC.
In the first half, the Colts offense operated like a well-oiled machine as Jacoby Brissett showed the kind of poise that made him such a valuable piece of the Phillip Dorsett acquisition that brought him to Indy. Brissett did the early work on his own, showing off nifty footwork and good pocket awareness on a pair of touchdown scrambles in the first quarter. He also showed a propensity for the deep ball, finding both T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief for a pair of long gains in the first half. Brissett seemed to assuage some of the worries that he wasn’t establishing a good rapport with Colts receivers, as he repeatedly targeted Hilton on his way to completing 17 of 24 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown.
And speaking of T.Y., what a way to back up his promise. The six-year veteran caught seven of nine targets for 153 yards, including a 61-yard catch and run that showed just how dangerous he can be in the open field. Hilton has looked like a lost puppy at times without Andrew Luck under center, even fumbling in the Colts’ Week 1 drubbing against The Los Angeles Rams. However, he returned to his dominant ways on Sunday afternoon, catching an assortment of deep balls all over the field.
And despite their second-half struggles, the Colts defense made some big plays, including three interceptions that helped set up scoring drives. The pass rush still struggled, as Indianapolis only got to Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer once, but the secondary played a much better ballgame. Rashaan Melvin came away with two interceptions, and rookie Malik Hooker got his first career pick. Kizer broke free for the occasional scramble, but the Colts managed the run game, holding the Browns to just 111 yards and stifling Isaiah Crowell.
It’s not an overstatement to say this was a potential make or break game for the Colts. Since 1990, just three teams have started 0-3 and rebounded to make the playoffs. On the contrary, nearly 25 percent of 1-2 teams have made the playoffs in that same time span. The Colts may have just kept their season alive on Sunday, and things look that much better as ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen reported that Andrew Luck may begin practicing as early as this week. Luck’s return should only galvanize a Colts team that still feels like it’s in the midst of an overhaul.
Granted, the Colts only narrowly escaped the lowly Browns at home, which may not necessarily inspire confidence heading into next week’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. But given that Indianapolis may have just saved their season with the help of an offensive breakthrough, hope springs eternal for dreams of the postseason.