INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts played their best football of the season in December.
They’re hoping to continue the trend into January — and February.
After pulling off yet another double-digit victory Sunday, 30-10 over Jacksonville, the Colts are chugging into the playoffs fully charged.
“Our momentum is sky high right now. We’re hot,” receiver T.Y. Hilton said after catching 11 passes for 155 yards, both career highs, and finishing with the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
While other playoff teams stumbled along the way over the past couple of weeks, the Colts (11-5) have been rolling. They’ve outscored their last three opponents 78-20 and have given up just two touchdowns in the last 12 quarters.
Yes, two of the wins came over two of the league’s worst teams, Houston and the Jaguars, at home, but the third was at Kansas City, which Indianapolis will face in a rematch Saturday afternoon. And for the first time since the Peyton Manning era ended, the Colts will be playing a postseason game at home, too.
What’s changed? Plenty.
For the first time since losing Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne with a season-ending knee injury, the Colts are back in sync. Indy has turned around a six-week stretch of alternating wins and losses by finishing the season with three straight victories. That matches Indy’s longest winning streak of the season.
And the timing couldn’t be better. Those who have faced the Colts recently have seen a very different team than the one that stumbled through November.
“First of all, that’s a very good team. We knew watching that tape they execute in all three phases,” first-year Jags coach Gus Bradley said. “It was a great test for us. “
But the Colts will be tested at the most meaningful time of the NFL season.
Here are five more things to take away from Sunday’s game:
MOVING ON: When Wayne was injured, Andrew Luck struggled to find a connection with his young receivers. That problem appears to have been solved. Over the last three weeks, Luck has completed 66.98 percent of his passes, thrown for 703 yards, four TDs and just one interception. He’s been sacked only three times despite playing with a different starting offensive line all three weeks. All of those numbers bode well for the playoffs.
CHANGING TIMES: Jacksonville center Brad Meester is retiring after 14 seasons with the team. Now the Jags (4-12) must figure out what else should change. Former rushing champ Maurice Jones-Drew could become a free agent. And the Jags, who will draft in the top 10, also will have to decide what to do at quarterback. Despite Sunday’s blowout, Blaine Gabbert did not play and Bradley said there was only “some thought” about pulling Chad Henne for Gabbert.
CLEANING UP: How did Indy win the AFC South title? By staying clean. On Sunday, the Colts had no turnovers and only two penalties. It’s been a season-long trend for Indy, which finished with the fewest turnovers (14) and fewest penalties (66) of any team in the league. That’s almost always a winning combination in the playoffs.
GROWING UP: Bradley does not view this as a lost season. After starting with eight consecutive losses, the Jaguars won four of their next five before losing the final three. During the second half of the season, Bradley said he continued to see improvements that Jacksonville needs to move forward. Bradley said the new coaching staff’s culture is taking hold and players seemed more unified now than early in the season.
DEFENSIVE SURGE: Indy’s defense is on a roll. It has given up just 20 points and two touchdowns over the last three weeks — and the one touchdown Sunday came with 16 seconds left in a blowout win. Yes, the Colts have figured out how to get off the field on third down, how to pressure quarterbacks with someone other than Robert Mathis and how to force turnovers. The biggest question now is whether the Colts will be healthy. Cory Redding and Ricky Jean Francois both sat out Sunday. Cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and linebacker Bjoern Werner (ankle) will all be evaluated after leaving Sunday’s game.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org